When Habakkuk started his book, he was in a “low place” questioning God. Then he climbed higher and stood on the watchtower, waiting for God to reply. After hearing God’s Word and seeing God’s glory, he became like a mountain climber who raises his hands in excitement at reaching the top of the mountain. His circumstances hadn’t changed, but he had changed, and now he was walking by faith instead of sight. He was living by promises, not explanations.
What took Habakkuk from the valley to the ridge? The same spiritual disciplines that can take us there: prayer, praise, and faith.
1. PRAYER: Pray For the Work of God (v1-2)
Prayer is the ultimate way to get answers to questions about God and His work in the world. Books, theology, philosophy, science, advanced education, seminaries, Bible colleges, the thoughts and wisdom of others—none of these is a substitute for seeking the face of God Himself. This is the lesson of Habakkuk. We must go to God Himself and to His Word for answers to our questions.
a. Habakkuk prayed for God to work among His people.
The prophet longed for a fresh outpouring of the presence of God. Habakkuk’s prayer begins in this way: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known” Habakkuk prayed because he was overwhelmed by God’s splendour. “I stand in awe of Your deeds” (Hab. 3:2, NIV).
b. Habakkuk prayed for mercy
Finally, Habakkuk prayed because he wanted God to show mercy. The prophet agreed that the people of Judah deserved to be punished, and that God’s punishment would work out for their good, but he asked that God’s heart of love would reveal itself in mercy. Certainly the Lord did show mercy to the Jews, for he preserved them in Babylon and then permitted a remnant to return to their land and establish the nation.
2. PRAISE: Praising the greatness of God (v3-15)
If you are in a difficult place today, I invite you to cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how bad it is. Instead, go in your secret place, shut the door and raise the roof with some Shigionoth praise.
a. God comes in splendour (3:3-5). According to some scholars, Mt. Paran is another name for the entire Sinai Peninsula, or for Mt. Sinai itself (Deut 33:2). Teman is usually identified with Edom. In this song, Habakkuk seems to be retracing the march of Israel from Sinai to the Promised Land.
Everything about this stanza reveals the glory of God. He is called “the Holy One” (Hab. 3:3; 1:12), a name used in Isaiah at least thirty times. “His glory covered the heavens” (3:3) is an anticipation of the time when His glory will cover all the earth (2:14). God’s appearance was like the lightning that plays across the heavens before the storm breaks. All of creation joined in praising Him as “the earth was full of His praise.” God’s brightness was like the sunrise only to a greater degree (Matt. 17:2). “Horns” means “rays”: “rays flashed from His hand (Hab. 3:4, NIV) where His power was hidden.
Verse 5 takes us to Egypt, where God revealed His power and glory in the plagues and pestilences that devastated the land and took the lives of the firstborn (Ex. 7-12).
b. God stands in power (3:6-7). Invading generals either push forward to gain ground or they fall back in retreat, but the Lord simply stood and faced the enemy unafraid. He calmly measured the earth as a sign that he possessed it. To measure something is an indication that it’s yours and you can do with it what you please. It’s also a preliminary step to action, as though the Lord were surveying the situation and estimating how much power it would take to execute his wrath on the nations. The Lord revealed his power when he shook the earth at Sinai before he delivered his Law to Israel (Ex. 19:18; Heb. 12:18-21).
Most of us fear to even think that God would use the same natural disasters and pestilence today. Far fewer of us are bold enough to declare the truth of God’s coming judgment. Such a warning might make us appear fanatical. Yet, one thing is definitely true: if God chooses, He can demonstrate the same power or any other supernatural act today, whether to get our attention or to correct the ways of his people.
God’s Word makes it clear that he has done this throughout the history of the world. God’s Word also declares that as world history draws to a close, natural disasters and pestilence will increase and be more devastating. And God will be behind it all, using it all for his purposes. (Matt 24:7; Rev 6:1-6; 11:13, 19; Rev 16:17-19).
c. God moves in victory (Hab. 3:8-15) Habakkuk uses dynamic poetic imagery to describe Israel’s march through the wilderness as they followed the Lord to the Promised Land and then claimed their inheritance.
Habakkuk was also looking ahead and describing the deliverance of God’s people from the Babylonian Captivity. God brought the Medes and Persians to crush Babylon and then to” permit the Jews to return to their land (Ezra 1:1-4). The image of God stripping Babylon “from head to foot” (3:13) parallels what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 50—51.
There is no substitute for understanding the greatness of God, whether in our messages or in our songs. The thing that lifted Habakkuk to the mountaintop was his understanding of the greatness of God. We need a return to the kind of worship that focuses on the glory of God and seeks to honour Him alone.
3. FAITH: Affirm the will of God (16-19).
This is one of the greatest confessions of faith found anywhere in Scripture.
a. “I will wait patiently on the Lord” (3:16).
If Habakkuk had depended on his feelings, he would never have made this great confession of faith.When we run ahead of God, we get into trouble. Abraham learned that lesson when he married Hagar and fathered Ishmael (Gen. 16), and so did Moses when he tried to deliver the Jews by his own hand (Ex. 2). “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isa. 3:15).
When you know that God is working in your life, you can afford to wait quietly and let Him have His way. No matter what we see and no matter how we feel, we must depend on God’s promises and not allow ourselves to “fall apart.” “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps. 37:7).
“Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Whenever we find ourselves getting “churned up” within, we can be sure that we need to stop, pray, and wait on the Lord before we do some stupid thing.
b. “I will rejoice in the Lord” (3:17-18).
By the time Babylon was through with the land of Judah, there wouldn’t be much of value left (2:17). Buildings would be destroyed, treasures would be plundered, and farms and orchards would be devastated. The economy would fall apart and there would be little to sing about. But God would still be on His throne, working out His divine purposes for His people (Rom. 8:28). Habakkuk couldn’t rejoice in his circumstances, but he could rejoice in his God!
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:16-18).
Habakkuk discovered that God was his strength (Hab 3:19) and song as well as his salvation (Is 12:1-2; Ex 15:2; Ps 118:14); and therefore he had nothing to fear.
What an example for us to follow! It reminds us of our Lord Jesus before he went to the cross (Mark 14:26), and Paul and Silas in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:19-34). God can give us “songs in the night” (Ps 42:8; 77:6; Job 35:10) if we’ll trust him and see his greatness.
c. “I will rely on the Lord” (3:19).
If my legs were shaking and my heart pounding, I’d find a safe place to sit down and relax, but Habakkuk began to bound up the mountain like a deer! Because of his faith in the Lord, he was able to stand and be as surefooted as a deer; he was able to run swiftly and go higher than he’d ever gone before. This is one reason why the Lord permits us to go through trials: they can draw us nearer to Him and lift us above the circumstances so that we walk on the heights with him.
God made us for the heights. If he allows us to go into the valley, it’s so we might wait on him and mount up with eagles’ wings (Is 40:30-31). “He made him to ride on the high places of the earth” (Deut 32:13). This is what David experienced when he was being chased by his enemies and by Saul: “It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places” (Ps.18:32-33).
God uses trials and tribulations in order to protect us and society—to keep us from harming ourselves and others. Apart from such judgment, many more people would continue in sin, causing more and more injury, corruption, and suffering in the world. More people would be doomed to eternal separation from God. Seen in this light, God’s judgment is an incredible act of mercy. In fact, many of the trials and afflictions we suffer in life are truly blessings in disguise.
This is why Habakkuk was able to rejoice and praise the Lord even though judgment was coming (Mt 7:25; 2 Co. 4:17; Heb 12:11; Jam 1:12; 1 Pet 1:7; Rev 2:10; Job 23:10; Ps. 78:34; Ps. 119:67; Zec 13:9; Mal 3:3).
Habakkuk teaches us to face our doubts and questions honestly, take them humbly to the Lord, wait for His Word to teach us, and then worship Him no matter how we feel or what we see.
God doesn’t always change the circumstances, but he can change us to meet the circumstances. That’s what it means to live by faith.