Habbakkuk in his prayer trembleth at God's majesty. The confidence of his faith.
Before Christ 690.
A prayer of Habakkuk— שׁגינות Shigionoth signifies wanderings. This word of the prophet seems to relate both to the deviations of the Jewish people from God's law, and also to their wandering, or being removed from their land on that account. Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, render the word αγνοηματων ignorances. So the Vulgate ignorantiis. See Parkhurst on the word שׁגאּה. Habakkuk having been informed by God of his design to send the Jews into captivity for their sins, and of his determination that they should serve the Babylonians seventy years, took upon him, as became his office, to intercede with God on their behalf. He begins his prayer for them with laying before the Lord, Habakkuk 3:2 the distress into which he was thrown by the judgments denounced against them; beseeching him, that he would shorten the time determined for their captivity, and restore them to their country before it was expired. Mr. Green renders the verse,
"O Jehovah, I have heard thy report:" (that is to say, what thou hast revealed concerning the captivity.)
"I am in pain, O Jehovah, for thy work:" (that is to say, for all that he had done among the Jews, and among other nations by means of the Jews, for the honour of his great Name.)
"In the midst of the years revive it;" (that is to say, restore the Jews to their own land, before the years determined for their captivity are expired. See Psalms 85:6-7.)
"In the midst of the years shew compassion."
"In wrath remember mercy." See his new version of this chapter.
God came from Teman— The prophet, having offered up his petition for shortening the captivity, proceeds in the next place, from Habakkuk 3:3-16 to recount the wonderful works which Jehovah had formerly wrought, to deliver his people from Egyptian slavery, and to put them in possession of the land of Canaan; intimating by this, that he would, in his good time, shew himself equally powerful in delivering them from the Babylonish captivity, and restoring them to their own land. In recounting these wonderful works Habakkuk first exhibits a description of Jehovah, as king and commander of the ten thousands of Israel, marching at their head in a pillar of a cloud, to conduct them and put them in possession of the promised land. When Jehovah sets out from Teman and Paran, so great is the majesty and glory with which he is arrayed, that the heaven and the earth are too little to contain them, Habakkuk 3:3. His brightness, like that of the meridian sun, is insupportable, and his power irresistible; Habakkuk 3:4 the pestilence and devouring fire attending him, to do execution upon the enemy at his command; Habakkuk 3:5. As soon as he enters the land of Canaan, Habakkuk 3:6 he takes possession of it as rightful Lord; and the seven nations, conscious that they had forfeited it by their wickedness, fly at the sight of him. The mountains of the land disperse to make way for him; the hills bow to pay him obeisance; and the highways own him for their Lord; and so great is the dread of him, that the neighbouring nations tremble while he passes by: Habakkuk 3:7. See Green: who, instead of, The earth was full of his praise, reads, And his glory filled the earth. Bishop Lowth observes, that this chapter affords us a remarkable instance of that sublimity which is peculiar to the ode; and which is principally owing to a bold and yet easy digression or transition. The prophet foreseeing the judgments of God, the calamities which were to be brought upon his countrymen by the Chaldeans, and then the punishments which awaited the Chaldeans themselves; partly struck with terror, partly revived with hope and confidence in the divine mercy, he prays God that he would hasten the redemption and deliverance of his people, Habakkuk 3:3. Now, here immediately occurs to every one's mind a similitude between the Babylonish and Egyptian captivity; that it was possible that an equal deliverance might be procured by the help of God; and how aptly the prophet might have so continued his prayer, that God, who had wrought so many miracles in ancient days for the sake of his people, would likewise continue his providential regard towards them; and how much it would contribute to confirm and strengthen the minds of the good, who should remember that the God who formerly had manifested his infinite power in rescuing the Israelites out of such great calamities, was able to do the same, by avenging their posterity likewise. But the prophet has omitted all these topics, for this very reason, because they so readily occur to the mind; and, instead of expatiating in so large a field, he bursts forth with an unexpected impetuosity, God came from Teman, &c. Throughout the whole passage he preserves the same magnificence with which he begins; cheering the noblest images that so copious a subject could afford, and illustrating them with the most splendid colours, images, figures, and the most elevated style. What crowns the sublimity of this piece, is, the singular elegance of the close; and were it not that antiquity has here and there thrown its veil of obscurity over it, there could not be conceived a more perfect and masterly poem of the kind. See the 28th Prelection.
And his brightness was as the light— Green renders this verse thus:
His brightness was as the brightness of the sun; He had rays of light beaming from his hand.
(See Deuteronomy 33:2.)
And there was the hiding-place of his power.
As the cloud was a hiding-place or veil to the glory of Jehovah, when it did not shine forth; so was it considered as the hiding-place of his power, when not manifested in act. See Numbers 16:42; Numbers 16:46. Dr. Kennicott would render the verse, His brightness was as the sun; the splendours issuing from his hand; for there was the manifestation of his power. As the Hebrew word אור our, here rendered light, is rendered in Job 31:26 the sun; (which being the principal source of light, through this system, may be properly called light, or the light, by way of eminence;) that rendering seems to improve the sense here. As קרנים karnaim, is derived from קרן karan, to shine, or emit rays of light, it is much better rendered splendours than horns: see Parkhurst on the word. And as the hand, right-hand, and arm, are expressions applied to God upon any signal display of the divine power; perhaps the hand of God cannot so properly be said to hide and conceal, as to exert and manifest his power and majesty: and that the verb whence the noun חביון chebion, is derived, gives this idea of shewing forth, is evident from several places in the Samaritan versions; as Genesis 41:25; Genesis 41:57. In this illustrious passage, then, we see the brightness or splendour poetically represented as streaming from the hand of God; that awful hand, which is mighty in operation, and which has so often manifested the divine power to a wondering world. See Kennicott's Dissert. vol. 1: p. 428.
Before him went the pestilence— See Ezekiel 20:47. Houbigant, supposing this to refer to God's appearance on mount Sinai, instead of pestilence, which he thinks ill suited to the subject, renders the word דבר daber, commandment, as the LXX, λογος, or Word; referring to the ten commandments which God promulged when the fire went forth at his feet. But, taking the passage as explained on Habakkuk 3:3 pestilence is very proper; and the word rendered burning coals, would more justly be translated devouring fire, or lightning. See Psalms 50:3; Psalms 78:48.
He stood and measured the earth— He stood, and measured out the land; he beheld, and scattered the nations: The eternal mountains dispersed, the perpetual hills bowed; the everlasting ways opened their Lord. Green; who observes, that it was customary for a conqueror, as soon as he became possessed of a country, to measure it out, and divide it among his people; thus David, I will triumph and divide Sichem, and measure out the valley of Succoth. Hence Jehovah, who takes possession of the land of Canaan upon the flight and cession of its guilty inhabitants, is represented as dividing it among the tribes of Israel. This passage is extremely poetical; wherein not only the inhabitants of Canaan, but the land itself is represented as struck with conscious terror at the approach of Jehovah. The Hebrew לו lo, is translated owned their Lord, because the literal sense of it, were for him, or on his side, amounts to the same.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction— I saw the tents of Cushan, or of Ethiopia, in consternation, and the tent curtains of the land of Midian trembled. Since Moses's wife, who was a Midianite, is called Numbers 12:1 a Cushite (that is, Ethiopian), Cushan may be here another name for Midian; and then the two members of this period will be equivalent: but if it should be different, then it must mean an Arabian nation which dwelt in tents near Midian, and which was seized with the same consternation at the approach of Jehovah as they were. We can never sufficiently admire the strength and spirit, as well as justness and propriety, of the foregoing description. The design of the prophet was, to give us right conceptions of Jehovah, as king and commander of the ten thousands of Israel; and what more proper circumstances could he have chosen, to inspire us with a just idea of his magnificence and greatness on this occasion? The glory with which he is arrayed is such as filleth the heaven and the earth: a glory which arises not from the pomp of external grandeur, and the parade of honourable followers; but from himself. His power is the terror of all the world around him: the insignia of it being, not the sword or the fasces, but the pestilence and devouring fire: and so great is the dread of him, that the Canaanites fly at his approach, the land trembles at his presence, and the nations around are not able to hide their dismay. Such is Habakkuk's description of Jehovah, simple and plain, but yet grand and sublime; as much excelling every pagan description of Jupiter, as light surpasses darkness. See Green and Houbigant. Habakkuk 3:8. After the description of Jehovah given in the preceding verses, the first of his wonderful works recounted by the prophet is the passage through the Red Sea, where he represents the Lord as appearing at the head of the Israelites in his chariot of war, with his bow drawn in his hand, to rescue them from their cruel oppressors, the Egyptians, and to give them the land of Canaan, according to the oath which he sware unto them, Habakkuk 3:8-9. The next is, his giving them water to drink in the wilderness, where the mountain, moved at his presence:—part of Habakkuk 3:9-10. The next, his passage over Jordan, where the waters, testifying their ready obedience to his will, open to the right and left to make way for his people to pass through:—latter part of Habakkuk 3:10. The next, his interposition at Joshua's engagements with the Amorites, when the sun and moon stood still, to give them time to discomfit their enemies, Habakkuk 3:11. The last wonderful works which the prophet recounts were performed after this engagement, when Jehovah marched before them to execute vengeance on the Canaanites, Habakkuk 3:12 and to protect the Israelites; destroying utterly the princes of Canaan and their states, at a time when they made sure of Israel for their prey, Habakkuk 3:13-14 and giving his own people entire possession of their country, from the river Jordan on the east, to the Mediterranean Sea on the west, Habakkuk 3:15. See Green.
Was the Lord displeased against the rivers— That is, "When thou appearedst, O Jehovah, at the Red Sea, in thy chariot of war, with thy bow drawn in thy hand, was it that thou wast displeased with the sea?"—The answer follows in the next verse, "No; Thou layedst bare thy bow, to fight for Israel, according to thy oath unto the tribes, and thy promise. It was only to fight for Israel, and conduct them safe to the land of Canaan, according to the oath which thou hadst given them." See Deuteronomy 33:26. Psal. lxxvii, 17, 18. The meaning of Riding upon thine horses, and thy chariots, must be on thy chariots drawn by horses; because in the original it is not thy horses, and thy chariots, the connective particle and being a supplement of our translators; but, upon thy horses, thy chariots; that is to say, even on thy chariots drawn by horses. The remark of Grotius here is, "Being drawn by thy horses, thy chariots brought salvation; clouds, storms, and tempests, being the chariots of God in the sacred writings." And where it is added, Habakkuk 3:15. Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, the meaning must be, that God made the passage of the Red Sea so easy, that it might have been passed through by an army of horse without any interruption; in plain allusion to the chariots and horses of the Egyptians. See Chandler's Life of David, vol. 2: p. 184 and the note on Psalms 18:10. Houbigant, after several commentators, reads the second clause of the 9th verse, And thou hast satiated the arrows of thy quiver. See his note, and the Syriac translation.
Habakkuk 3:10. The overflowing, &c.— The overflowing water hasted away. Green. At the season when the Israelites passed over Jordan, this river overflowed its banks; but as soon as the priests who bare the ark entered into it, the waters which came down above rearing themselves, the river parted asunder with a mighty noise; here nobly described by the deep uttering its voice, and lifting up its hands on high. See Joshua 3:15-16.
At the light of thine arrows they went— By their light thine arrows fled abroad, and by their shinings thy glittering spear. When Joshua fought against the Amorites, at his command the sun and moon stood still, to give the Israelites time for the destruction of their enemies; and while these gave them light, Jehovah sent out his arrows and scattered them. He shot forth his lightnings and destroyed them. The verb הלךֶ halak rendered went, or flew abroad, signifies any progressive motion, and should always be translated by such a word as best suits the subject. When used of ships, it should be translated sailing; when of rivers, running; when of any thing that moves upon wings, flying, as it should be rendered Psalms 104:3. Who flieth upon the wings of the wind. Hervey paraphrases this, according to the marginal translation of our Bibles, "In the light, thine arrows walked on their lawful errand; in the clear-shining of the day, lengthened out for this purpose, thy glittering spear, launched by thy people, but guided by thy hand, sprung on its prey." See Green.
Thou didst march, &c.— Jehovah is here represented as marching before his people through the land of Canaan, in his chariot of war, and trampling under foot those that rise up against him. The second clause should be rendered, Thou didst trample under foot the nations in anger. It is the same figurative language in which David speaks of him, Psalms 60:12.
Even for salvation with thine anointed— For the salvation of thine anointed. Thou woundedst the head of the house of the wicked; thou rasedst the foundations even to the rock. Habakkuk 3:14. Thou piercedst through with thy sceptre the head of the villages. Green. The persons who are said in this passage to be wounded, and pierced through, were some of the kings of Canaan; but which of them are meant, the history of Joshua is not particular enough to inform us.
Thou didst strike, &c.— Green, as we have seen in the former note, joins this clause to the 13th verse. Houbigant reads it thus, Thou with thy sceptre didst strike through the head of his princes, who rushed forth with violence to destroy me, and who rejoiced like those who are about to devour the poor secretly. Green reads the latter part of the verse, When they came out as a whirlwind to scatter us, their rejoicing was as when about to devour the poor man in secret. When the kings of Canaan had recovered their spirits, they entered into a confederacy against the Israelites, and set upon them in battle with such fury, as if they would have swept them away, like a stormy wind. Our whirlwind gives us but a faint idea of the scorching wind of the East, which was frequently employed as an instrument of divine vengeance, and brought with it certain destruction. See Job 27:21.Jeremiah 23:19; Jeremiah 30:23. The reader will observe, that, in this and the seventh verse, the prophet speaks in the person of an Israelite, who lived in the days of Joshua. In the 18th and 19th verses we find him speaking in the person of a captive Jew at Babylon. He does the former to give life to his poetry; the latter, to give confidence to the Jewish people. See Green.
Thou didst walk through the sea— See the note on Habakkuk 3:8-9 where an exposition of this verse is given: but Green understands it very differently, thus,
Thou marchedst with thine horses to the western sea, To the heap of great waters.
ים iam, says he, is frequently put by way of eminence, for the Western, or Mediterranean Sea. Now, as the Israelites entered the land of promise on the east, it is more probably the meaning of the prophet that Jehovah marched before them to give them possession of the whole land, even to the west, than that, after so many incidents mentioned by him since their passage through the Red Sea, he should return to speak of that again: but let every one judge for himself.
When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered, &c.— The prophet, having recounted, for the present encouragement of the faithful, the wonderful works which God had formerly done for his people, returns again to set forth in what manner he was affected with the judgments pronounced against them; and thence takes occasion to pray that he might be gathered to his fathers in peace, before the king of Babylon should invade Judaea, and carry the people away captive, Habakkuk 3:16.; adding, as a reason for his prayer, a description of the desolation which should then come upon the land, Habakkuk 3:17. After this he concludes his prayer for the Jews with declaring, that whatever became of himself, he would still rejoice in hope, that God would visit his people again with his salvation, Habakkuk 3:18. And then, glorying in Jehovah as their strength, the prophet rests assured that he would in due time restore the captive Jews to their own land; giving them the agility of the hind, to return once more to the fertile and darling hills of Judaea. The meaning of the 16th verse will be best seen by the following translation;
I heard thy report, and my bowels were troubled; My lips quivered at thy voice: Consumption [tabes] entered into my bones, And my steps tottered under me. O, that I might be at rest before the day of distress, When the invader shall come up against the people with his troops! GREEN.
The verb נוח noach is used also for resting in the region of the dead; and it is probably in this sense that the prophet uses it here. A good man would rather wish to be gathered to his fathers in peace, than survive such a desolation of his country as is described in the next verse.
Although the fig-tree shall not bloom, &c.—
For then the fig-tree shall not flourish, Nor shall fruit be on the vines: The produce of the olives shall fail, And the fields shall supply no food: The flocks shall be cut off from the fold, And no herds shall be left in the stalls.
It was during this desolation, which is so poetically and beautifully described, that the land rested from tillage, and enjoyed its sabbatical years; which before, it seems, it had not been suffered to do, through the avarice and wickedness of the Jews. See 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 and Green.
Yet— Or, But for my part. Instead of, The God of my salvation, the Vulgate reads, In Jesus my God: that Jesus, says Calmet, who is the joy, the consolation, the hope, the life of believers; without whom the world can offer us nothing but false joys; who was the object of the desires, and the perpetual consolation, of the prophets and patriarchs. See John 8:56.
And he will make me to walk, &c.— And cause me to tread again on my own high places. By high places, the prophet seems to mean the fruitful hills of Judaea; at least Moses uses the word in this sense, Deuteronomy 32:13. Some are of opinion, that Habakkuk speaks only of the strongholds of the land; but if we reflect on the naked and defenceless state that Judaea was in when the Jews returned from captivity, we may rather be induced to think that the prophet meant no more than this; that after the land had rested seventy years, and enjoyed its sabbaths, it should become fruitful again; and that then the Jews should once more delight themselves in the plenty of its pleasant hills, as the hind on her favourite high places. As Habakkuk seems to have had the beginning of Moses's blessing in his eye at Habakkuk 3:3 so in this he alludes to the conclusion of it. See Deuteronomy 33:29. It appears from the last words, To the chief musician, on his stringed instruments, that this prayer was sung in the temple service. See Green. Houbigant, however, gives the last words another turn; rendering them thus, And shall bring me to the tops of the mountains to victory in my song; or, "that I may overcome, when those "things which I here sing shall have their completion."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, This chapter is called a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet: it is drawn up like David's psalms, and suited for the service of the sanctuary.
1. The prophet acknowledges the notices of God's will, which he had given him, and the impression that they made upon him. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid; because of the sad tidings concerning the desolations of his people, which affected him exceedingly.
2. He cries on their behalf, that God would manifest his favour to them in the time of their distress. O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years; give the people some tokens of regard before the captivity ends, or revive the work of grace among them, which cannot but comfort and support them. In the midst of the years make known thy pity, providence, and love: in wrath remember mercy, and shew them some signs of reconciliation, that they may not sink into despair. Note; When we are stirred up to cry to God, whatever wrath our souls appear to be under, there is then good hope of mercy in store for us.
2nd, The prophet, as the encouragement of his faith, remembers the days of old, and mentions the past deliverances that God had wrought for his people, as a plea for present help.
1. He had appeared to them on Sinai, with most magnificent displays of his greatness and glory. He was seen advancing in majesty from afar, from Teman and Paran, while the heavens shone with his brightness, and earth rang with his praise, or was full of his light, he shone like the sun; he had horns, or beams, coming out of his hand or sides; begirt around with irradiation; and there was the hiding of his power; a little of his glory appeared; the far greater part was hid; for the greatness of his power who can understand?
2. He sent his messengers before him, to prepare the way of his people. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet; when Egypt felt his plagues, or when the Canaanites were by his judgments consumed, or were at least weakened in order to their final destruction. He stood, and measured the earth; dividing the land of Canaan among the tribes, and with a look expelled the inhabitants. The mighty sons of Anak, strong as the everlasting mountains, were scattered and broken; and all the nobles and princes of the land, who thought their possessions sure as the perpetual hills, did bow before the God of Israel: for his ways are everlasting, nor can any of the sons of men frustrate his decided counsels, or stay his arm when he is determined to destroy. With panic fears the neighbouring nations of Midian and Cushan beheld and trembled, lest to them also the desolations should extend: so easily can God dismay the mightiest.
3. When the Red Sea was divided, and Jordan driven back, it seemed as if the very rivers, affrighted, fled from his displeasure; whilst, as the captain of Israel's host, he rode triumphant through the parted waters, and led them on horses and chariots of salvation, walking securely along through the bed of the Red Sea. The overflowing streams, Joshua 3:15 passed by, retiring on either side: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high, roaring as it fled.
4. His rivers cleaved the earth, when in the barren wilderness the stony rock at his command poured forth a torrent of waters.
5. To give Israel an opportunity to destroy their enemies, the sun and moon stood still in their habitation, Joshua 10:12-13. At the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear; God himself fought for them, and directed them in the pursuit of their routed foes. Thy bow was made quite naked, to consume their enemies, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word, having sworn to their fathers to give them this land for a heritage. From one end of Canaan to the other did the Lord, as the leader of Israel's army, march in indignation against the wickedness of the inhabitants, and threshed them in anger, as corn on the floor. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; assisting and strengthening his divinely appointed generals, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua: thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, the princes of Canaan, by discovering the foundation, utterly destroying their cities and the inhabitants, unto the neck; the whole body politic, with all the members of it, being cut in pieces. Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages; turning their own arms against them, and ruining the country throughout. Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly; they were confident of victory over God's poor people; or this was a part of their crimes which provoked these judgments of God against them.
Some suppose that the whole of this section refers to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, his erection of his spiritual kingdom in the world, the subdual of sin, Satan, death, and hell before him, and especially his coming at the latter day for the destruction of the anti-christian powers; of all which, his appearances for his people in time past, no doubt, were typical; and genuine believers may, in every time of their distress and trouble, as confidently hope to see this great salvation of God, as ever Israel experienced his salvation from their enemies of old. This is their glorious privilege. O, that none may come short of it!
3rdly, The tidings of distress which the prophet heard concerning his countrymen, though there was hope in the end, affected him deeply.
1. When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; overpowered with fear and dismay; rottenness entered into my bones; his whole frame seemed as dissolved: I trembled in myself, at the desolations he beheld; that I might rest; or O, that I might be at rest; or notwithstanding I shall rest in the day of trouble; be safe under the divine protection, and delivered from the evil, though he plainly foresaw, that when he cometh up unto the people, when the Chaldeans with their king come up, he will invade them, or cut them in pieces, with his troops. Note; (1.) Holy souls tremble at God's word, and with awful apprehensions look forward to the wrath ready to be revealed from heaven. (2.) God's faithful people are enabled to exercise faith in him in the worst of times, and they shall be hid in the day of his fierce anger.
2. Notwithstanding every discouraging circumstance, his faith triumphs in the God of his salvation. He supposes the worst of calamities which can happen; that drought, blasting, mildew, or the ravages of an enemy destroy their vines, fig-trees, and olives; that pestilence and famine devour the cattle, so that the barren fields are quite forsaken: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. And thus can a faithful soul under the loss of every earthly comfort rejoice in Christ Jesus, in the present experience of his grace, and the holy expectation of his glory. The Lord God is my strength, when every other help fails; and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, firm and swift to run the way of his commandments, amidst every difficulty and danger: and he will make me to walk upon mine high places; victorious over every foe, as every faithful saint of God shall shortly be, when he cometh to the mount of God in glory. Thus ends the prophet's prayer, with assured faith, and joyful hope; and he has left it upon record, directed to the chief singer on the stringed instruments, to teach God's believing people in all their trials never to cease from prayer and praise; but, rejoicing in hope, to expect with humble confidence the final, full, and eternal salvation of God.