Bible Commentaries
Habakkuk 3

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3378. B.C. 626.

This chapter contains Habakkuk’s prayer, in which he,

(1,) Earnestly begs that God would help and relieve his afflicted people, Habakkuk 3:1 , Habakkuk 3:2 .

(2,) Calls to mind God’s glorious and gracious appearances for the Israelites in bringing them out of Egypt and into Canaan, Habakkuk 3:3-15 .

(3,) Deeply affected with the impending troubles of his nation, he comforts himself and others that, even without any visible means, God could and would bring every thing to a happy issue, Habakkuk 3:16-19 .

Verse 1

Habakkuk 3:1. A prayer of Habakkuk, &c. The word prayer is here taken in a general sense for an act or exercise of devotion, including adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. The word shigionoth signifies wanderings, and may denote “cantio erratica, vel mixta,” a desultory, various, or mixed hymn; or, as Bishop Newcome thinks, “a musical instrument of great compass, with which the Jews accompanied this piece of poetry.”

Verse 2

Habakkuk 3:2. O Lord, I have heard thy speech and was afraid I have heard what thou hast revealed to me concerning thy judgments to be executed, first upon thy own people, and afterward upon their enemies the Chaldeans, and the terribleness of them hath filled me with a reverential awe and dread. O Lord, revive, or preserve alive, thy work in the midst of the years Habakkuk having understood, by divine revelation, that some time would intervene between the desolation of Judea and the punishment of the Chaldeans, here entreats God, that, during that interval, he would preserve or take care of his work; that is, his Israel, that work of his hands which he had formed for himself, that they might show forth his praise: (see Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 45:11:) together with the work of his grace in and among them; that he would keep that spark alive amidst the waters of tribulation and temptation through which they had to pass. Although all men are the work of God, yet the Jews might be called so more emphatically, because he had, by many extraordinary interpositions, raised them to be a peculiar people to himself, and had formed them such by laws given to them in a singular manner, not used with regard to any other people. In the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy Or, as Grotius interprets the clause, In that intervening time show, that although thou art angry, thou rememberest mercy. In the midst of these years of calamity let thy people experience, that even in thy indignation thou thinkest upon mercy, and dost not lay more upon them than thou enablest them to bear. The years here referred to seem plainly to be those in which the Jews were under the power of the Chaldeans, and Judea lay desolate. Mr. Green translates the verse, O Jehovah, I have heard thy report: (that is, what thou hast revealed concerning the captivity:) I am in pain, O Jehovah, for thy work: (that is, the Jewish people:) in the midst of the years revive it: (restore the Jews to their own land before the years appointed for their captivity are expired:) in the midst of the years show compassion; in wrath remember mercy.

Verse 3

Habakkuk 3:3. God came from Teman, &c. 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 that God 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 an equal deliverance might be procured by the help of God; and how aptly the prophet might so have continued his prayer, namely, that God, who had wrought so many miracles in ancient days for the sake of his people, would likewise continue his providential regard toward them; and how much it would contribute to confirm and strengthen the minds of the pious, 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.” Præl. Hebrews 28. Habakkuk, therefore, having offered up his petitions to God for the preservation and support of his people during their captivity, proceeds, from hence to Habakkuk 3:16, to recount, for their encouragement, the wonderful works which Jehovah had formerly wrought for them to deliver them from Egyptian slavery, and to put them in possession of the land of Canaan, intimating by this, that he would in due time show himself equally powerful in delivering them from the Babylonish captivity, and restoring them to their own land. In recounting these wonderful works he first exhibits a description of Jehovah, as king and commander of the 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 of Canaan, conscious that they had forfeited it by their wickedness, flee 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. “Throughout the whole passage the prophet preserves the same magnificence with which he begins, choosing the noblest images which 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 hath here and there thrown its veil of obscurity over it, there could not be conceived a more perfect and masterly poem of the kind.” Bishop Lowth. “The grandest images,” adds Bishop Newcome, “are selected; and the diction is as splendid as the subjects.” Teman is thought to have been first the name of an encampment, and afterward of an Idumean city: see Job 2:11; Jeremiah 49:7. Paran was a part of Arabia Petræa, near mount Sinai: see Genesis 21:21; Deuteronomy 33:2. His glory covered the heavens That excessive splendour which filled the air when God descended on mount Sinai, in flames of fire, lightnings, and thunders, to give the law to his people. And the earth was full of his praise Green reads, And his glory filled the earth.

Verses 4-5

Habakkuk 3:4-5. 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; and there was the hiding-place of his power. The Hebrew word אור , here rendered light, is translated the sun, Job 31:26; and that rendering seems to improve the sense here. The word קרנים , rendered horns, being derived from קרן , to shine, or emit rays of light, is much better rendered rays, or splendours, here, than horns: see Parkhurst on the word. 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. Or, as others explain it, The Shechinah, or symbol of the divine presence, had rays of light issuing out on every side, and yet that was but a hiding, or veil, to the Divine Majesty, who covereth himself with light as with a garment, (Psalms 104:2,) and who dwelleth in light inaccessible, or of too resplendent brightness to be approached, or gazed at, by mortals. Before him went the pestilence Occasionally inflicted on the Israelites for their guilt: see Numbers 11:33; Numbers 14:37; Numbers 16:46. And burning coals Or rather, as the expression would be better translated, devouring fire, or lightning, went forth at his feet See Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35, in which passages we read of the Israelites being consumed by a fire which went out from Jehovah. And ( Lev 9:24 ) we learn, that the burnt-offering was consumed by a fire which came out from before him.

Verse 6

Habakkuk 3:6. He stood and measured the earth “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, (Psalms 60:6,) I will divide Shechem, and mete 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.” Green, who translates the former part of the verse thus: He stood and measured out the land; he beheld and scattered the nations: the eternal mountains dispersed, the perpetual hills bowed. The passage is certainly extremely poetical; representing, not only the inhabitants of Canaan, but the land itself, as struck with conscious terror at the approach of Jehovah. His ways are everlasting His purposes, foreknown from all eternity, will infallibly be executed in their appointed time: or, his wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, and power, exerted and manifested in governing his people, are immutable and eternal.

Verse 7

Habakkuk 3:7. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction Since Moses’s wife, who was a Midianite, is called ( Num 12:1 ) a Cushite, Cushan may be here another name for Midian, and then the two members of this period will be equivalent; but if they be different, then the Cushites must have been an Arabian nation who dwelt in tents near the Midianites, and were seized with the same consternation, at the approach of Jehovah and his people Israel, as the latter were. The total overthrow which the Israelites gave the Midianites and their allies, as recorded Numbers 31:7-12, is probably here referred to. We can never sufficiently admire the strength and spirit, as well as justness and propriety, of this whole description. “The glory with which Jehovah is arrayed, is such as fills the heaven and the earth; a glory arising 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 flee 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.” Green and Houbigant.

Verses 8-10

Habakkuk 3:8-10. Was the Lord, &c. 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 mountains moved at his presence. The next, his passage over Jordan, where the waters, testifying their ready obedience to his will, opened to the right and left to make way for his people to pass through. The next, his interposition at Joshua’s engagement with the Amorites, when the sun and moon stood still to give them time to discomfit their enemies, Habakkuk 3:9-11. The last wonderful works which the prophet recounts were performed after this engagement, when Jehovah marched before them to execute vengeance on the Canaanites, 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; 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 3:12-15. Green.

Was the Lord displeased against the rivers Can it be imagined, that when God caused the Red sea to be dry in the midst of it, and the waters of the river Jordan to stop, it was done out of displeasure against the waters? Surely not. But it was done out of God’s singular care of, and regard for, his people, for whose deliverance he appeared in as illustrious a manner, as if he had been seen riding in the clouds, (here termed his horses,) and carried upon the wings of the wind as in a chariot: see notes on Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalms 104:3; Isaiah 19:1. Thy bow was made quite naked Or, Thou didst lay bare thy bow, to fight for Israel; that is, thou didst fight for Israel, as evidently as if thou hadst been seen with a bow in thy hand; according to the oath, &c. That thou mightest fulfil the oaths and promises which thou hadst made, to give the tribes of Israel full possession of Canaan. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers Thou didst cleave the hard rocks, and the earth about them, and make the waters to run down in great streams, like rivers, which followed them a great part of their journey. The mountains saw thee, and they trembled Mount Sinai, and the hills adjoining, felt the effects of thy presence. The overflowing of the water passed by Or, hasted away, as Green renders it. “At the season when the Israelites passed over Jordan, this river over- flowed its banks; but as soon as the priests who bare the ark entered into it, the waters, rearing themselves upon the right hand and upon the left, 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.

Verses 11-12

Habakkuk 3:11-12. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation At the command of Joshua. At the light of thine arrows they went Or rather, by their light (namely, the light of the sun and moon) thine arrows flew abroad, and by their shining, thy glittering spear. It was to give the Israelites time for the destruction of their enemies, that God caused the sun and moon to stand still; and while these gave them light, Jehovah sent out his arrows and scattered them, &c., Psalms 18:14. He alludes to God’s casting down great hailstones and lightnings from heaven, to discomfit the Amorites: see the margin. 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 rose up against him; which seems to be the meaning of the second clause, Thou didst thrash, &c.

Verses 13-15

Habakkuk 3:13-15. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people For their deliverance and protection; even for salvation with thine anointed With those appointed and qualified to be leaders and rulers of thy people; such as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David. Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked That is, the heads, or confederate princes, of the Canaanites, Joshua 10:3; Joshua 11:1; by discovering the foundation unto the neck Or, as Green renders it, Thou rasedst the foundations even to the rock. Thou didst strike through with his staves, &c.

Waterland reads, Thou didst strike through the head of his warriors among his tribes: and Houbigant, Thou, with thy sceptre, didst strike through the head of his princes. Thou didst discomfit all the petty kings of the several clans carrying on the war against Joshua. They came out as a whirlwind to scatter me The prophet here assumes the person of the Israelitish people, and therefore says, They came out to scatter me. Armies are sometimes spoken of as whirlwinds: see Zechariah 9:14. Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly Or, in secret, that is, to devour those who were weak and defenceless, and should keep themselves in secret for fear. So the enemies of the Israelites, who came out as a whirlwind to scatter them, thought that they were not able to oppose them, but would hide themselves through fear; and they therefore exulted, as if they were marching to certain victory. Thou didst walk through the sea with thy horses This seems to be a highly figurative expression, to signify God’s dividing the waters of the Red sea and the river Jordan, and making them to stand on a heap, while the Israelites went through with as much safety as if they had rode on horses.

Verse 16

Habakkuk 3:16. When I heard, my belly trembled The prophet, having recounted, for the present encouragement of the faithful, the wonderful works which God had formerly wrought for his people, here returns again to his first subject, namely, the revelation which he had received from God, concerning the calamities which should be brought on the Jewish people by the Chaldeans. My belly trembled, my lips quivered, &c. A consternation and shaking seized me, and I could not speak for grief and astonishment, at being informed what great miseries were coming upon my nation. Rottenness entered into my bones I could no more stand than a person whose bones are rendered rotten by disease. That I might rest in the day of trouble These words are interpreted in different ways: some suppose that the prophet here expresses a desire of being gathered to his fathers in peace, before the king of Babylon should invade Judea, and carry the people away captive; and that he adds, as a reason of his prayer, a description of the desolation which should then come upon the land. In this sense the clause is understood by Mr. Green, who therefore interprets it, O that I might be at rest before the day of distress, when the invader shall come up against the people with his troops! But Noldius, whose interpretation is approved by Lowth, reads, Yet I shall rest in the day of trouble, when he shall come up against the people, even he who shall invade them with his troops. The prophet may be considered as speaking in the person of every truly pious Jew; I shall rest secure under the divine protection, when the Chaldeans shall come to invade Judea. This sense of the clause accords well, perhaps better than any other, with the following verses; in which we have a plain and noble description of the confidence we ought to have in God, in the most trying times, and when involved in the greatest calamities.

Verses 17-18

Habakkuk 3:17-18. Although the fig-tree shall not blossom Though all outward means of support should fail, yet will I still have a firm confidence in the power, goodness, and faithfulness of God, that he will preserve me, and supply me with all things necessary; and therefore, amidst the most threatening appearances of affairs, I shall still preserve inward peace and serenity of mind, as trusting in him in whom is everlasting strength, Isaiah 26:3-4. The state of the land during the captivity may be here prophetically described, when the vineyards, olive-yards, fields, and pastures, would be in a desolate and barren state: or the prophet may be considered as declaring, that even such circumstances should not shake his confidence in God. Yet will I rejoice in the Lord I shall have him to rejoice in, and will rejoice in him. I will joy in the God of my salvation

In the knowledge and love, the favour and friendship, the care and kindness of him in whom I have present, and hope to have future and eternal salvation. Observe: reader, this is the principal ground of our joy in God, that he is the God of our salvation; our everlasting salvation, the salvation of our souls; and if he be so, we may rejoice in him as such in our greatest distresses, since by them our salvation cannot be hindered, but may be furthered. Instead of, the God of my salvation, the LXX. read, επι τω Θεω τω σωτηρι μου , in God my Saviour; and the Vulgate, in Deo Jesu meo, in God my Jesus, or, 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.

Verse 19

Habakkuk 3:19. The Lord God is my strength He that is the God of our salvation in another world, will be our strength in this world, to carry us on in our journey thither, and help us over the difficulties and oppositions we meet with in our way, even then when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man does not live by bread alone, but may have the want of bread supplied by the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit. Observe, reader: 1st, We may be strong for our spiritual warfare and work, The Lord God is my strength, the strength of my heart, Psalms 73:26. 2d, We may be swift for our spiritual race, He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, that with enlargement of heart I may run the way of his commandments. 3d, We may be successful in our spiritual enterprises, He will make me to walk upon my high places: that is, I shall gain my point, shall be restored unto my land, and tread upon the high places of the enemy: see the notes on Psalms 18:33; Deuteronomy 32:13; Deuteronomy 33:29. Thus the prophet, who began his prayer with fear and trembling, concludes it with joy and triumph; for prayer is the support and consolation of a pious soul. And as he 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. Some think it appears from the last words, To the chief singers, &c., that this prayer was sung in the temple service. 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.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". Benson's Commentary. 1857.