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Habakkuk 3


THE PRAYER OF HABAKKUK, Habakkuk 3:1-19.

The prophetic utterances in chapters 1, 2 are followed by a lyric poem, called in the title, Habakkuk 3:1, a prayer. Habakkuk 3:2 contains the petition; it is followed by a description of divine interferences in the past for the salvation of his people (Habakkuk 3:3-15). The knowledge of these past favors gives the prophet an unflinching confidence in Jehovah during the present and impending calamity; in spite of the severest danger, he will trust in the God of his salvation (Habakkuk 3:16-19). In many places the text seems to have suffered in transmission, so that the details of translation and interpretation are not always beyond doubt.

Verse 1

1. Habakkuk On the authorship of the poem see Introduction, pp. 472ff.

Upon Shigionoth R.V., “set to Shigionoth.” The singular of the noun occurs in Psalms 7:1, “Shiggaion of David.” The exact meaning of this and other technical musical terms in the psalm titles is not known. It seems to be related to a verb “to reel,” which is used of the giddiness of intoxication and of love. The primary meaning of the noun would seem to be “reeling”; as a musical term it probably denotes a particular style of poetry or music, or both; a song sung with great excitement, or with a rapid change of emotion. Such a poem is Psalms 7:0. The prayer of Habakkuk is said to be set to Shigionoth, that is, it is arranged and is to be sung after the manner of these “reeling songs.” Schmieder paraphrases it, “after the manner of a stormy, martial, and triumphant ode.”

Verse 2

Habakkuk 3:2 contains the prayer proper.

Thy speech R.V., “the report of thee.” Some understand “the report of thee” in the sense of “thy report,” that is, thy declaration, namely, the announcement, in chapters i, ii, of judgment upon Judah and upon the Chaldeans. But the expression seems to be used always in the sense of report concerning some one (Genesis 29:13; 1 Kings 10:1). It is the report concerning Jehovah’s mighty manifestations, described in 3-15; of these the prophet has heard. Margin R.V., rightly, “thy fame.” I…

was afraid The greatness and sublimity of these interferences filled the prophet with fear, not fear of destruction, but a feeling of awe and reverence, which accompanies the recognition of the omnipotence of Jehovah. Fear of destruction would have silenced him or would have wrung from him a cry of despair; the feeling of awe inspired confidence. If Jehovah could help in the past, surely he can help in the present crisis.

Revive thy work The work of deliverance described in Habakkuk 3:3-15. The present and the immediate future seem to reveal Jehovah as indifferent toward the best interests of his people. O that he would repeat the wonderful acts of the past, when again and again he became the saviour of his people!

In the midst of the years This expression has been variously interpreted; but if taken in connection with the divine manifestations of the past (13-15), and with the promise that at the “appointed time” (Habakkuk 2:3) he would manifest himself again in mercy, the right interpretation suggests itself. The words refer to the period between the two manifestations, to the prophet’s own days and the days of distress yet to come. The petitioner prays Jehovah to come near to his people even now, to hasten the “appointed time.”

Make known Thy work, which is now hidden. This is essentially a repetition of the thought of the preceding clause. LXX. reads, “make thyself known.”

In wrath remember mercy The announcement of judgment in Habakkuk 1:5 ff., seemed to be an indication of the divine anger. Unchecked it will accomplish the destruction of Judah. Troubled by these prospects, the prophet beseeches Jehovah to temper his wrath with mercy, even in executing judgment, and before the final deliverance promised for the “appointed time.” The thought becomes somewhat modified if we read, as is permitted by the Hebrew, “turmoil” for “wrath.”

Verses 3-7

Jehovah’s terrible approach, Habakkuk 3:3-7.

3. Teman See on Amos 1:12.

Mount Paran In all probability the mountain range between Mount Seir and Mount Sinai. This whole region in the south was thought to be in a special manner the dwelling place of Jehovah, from which his manifestations proceeded (Judges 5:4; Deuteronomy 33:2). This belief undoubtedly arose from the fact that there Moses received his revelations, and there the covenant was established between Jehovah and Israel.

Holy One A descriptive title of Jehovah (see on Hosea 11:9).

Selah Occurs three times in this chapter (compare 9, 13), and seventy-one times in the Psalter, in thirty-nine psalms. There is still some uncertainty as to the meaning of the word. Some have thought that it marks strophe divisions; a more probable interpretation, however, is that which sees in it a direction to the musicians, either to increase the force of the music, or to play a musical interlude while the singing ceases.

Glory See on Habakkuk 2:14.

Praise The parallelism with “glory” indicates that the poet has in mind not so much the expression of praise by the people as that in Jehovah which evokes the praise, hence the expression is practically equivalent to “praiseworthy manifestation.”

Heavens… earth The whole universe. The thought of the entire verse is that, when Jehovah came forth, the whole universe was dazzled by the splendor and power of his manifestations.

In Habakkuk 3:4 the singer proceeds to describe in greater detail the glory of the divine appearance.

And his brightness was as the light Literally, And there appeared a brightness as the light. The splendor and brightness of Jehovah’s appearance are likened to the dazzling rays of the sun.

He had horns In Arabic poetry the first rays of the rising sun are frequently likened to the horns of a gazelle; R.V., “rays.”

Out of his hand Since the preceding is literally “two horns,” some have seen here a reference to Jehovah wielding and directing the thunderbolts with his hand. This would be in accord with the language in other poems, which describe the appearance of Jehovah in the imagery of a thunderstorm. But, since “horn” is not used ordinarily of lightning, it may be better to look for a different interpretation. The hands being on the sides of a person, “from his hand” may be equivalent to “from his side,” or even “from both sides.” As the disk of the sun is surrounded by bright rays, so Jehovah is thought of here as surrounded by radiant splendor. “Such a radiant splendor surrounding God is presupposed when it is affirmed of Moses that on coming from the presence of Jehovah his face was radiant, or emitted rays” (Exodus 34:29-30).

There Within the brightness.

The hiding of his power All that can be seen is the radiance and the splendor; Jehovah himself is invisible. Ordinarily darkness is represented as covering the Godhead (Exodus 20:21; 1 Kings 8:12; Psalms 18:12-13). Following in part LXX. and other ancient versions, Nowack alters 4b and reads Habakkuk 3:4 “His brightness was as the light; the rays at his side he made the hiding place of his power.”

Habakkuk 3:5 points to the servants who accompanied the heavenly King, to carry out his bidding (2 Samuel 15:1; compare 1 Samuel 25:42).

Pestilence There was also a dark side to the divine manifestation; he came to execute judgment, and pestilence was his agent (see on Amos 4:10; compare Isaiah 37:36).

Burning coals The Revisers thought this to refer to the thunderbolts which he hurled against his enemies (Psalms 18:14), for they translated “fiery bolts.” This is a possible interpretation; but in parallelism with “pestilence” it is better understood as the burning fever heat of the plague. This he employed against the enemies of his people. As Habakkuk 3:7 refers to the events on Mount Sinai, so this verse probably refers to the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians before they permitted the Hebrews to depart; there may be an allusion also to the destruction of the army of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:36).

Having described the bright and the dark sides of Jehovah’s manifestation, the poet proceeds to picture in Habakkuk 3:6-7 the impression made by the coming of Jehovah upon nature and upon man. Both verses refer probably to the events on Mount Sinai.

He stood Having reached the goal, he stopped.

Measured With the eyes, preliminary to action. The parallelism favors a verb corresponding to “drove asunder” in the next line. LXX. reads “was shaken”; Targum, “he shook”; the last reading is preferable. This may perhaps begotten from the present Hebrew verb, though it is not its usual meaning. Some commentators substitute a different verb.

He beheld and drove asunder The look of his eyes was sufficient to terrify and scatter all. The second verb means to start up in terror (Job 37:1).

Everlasting mountains… perpetual hills These are the firmest and most substantial portions of the globe; they have existed from the beginning (see on Micah 6:2; compare Psalms 90:2); one would naturally expect them to stand up under the blow, but before Jehovah they crumble. On everlasting see note on Habakkuk 1:12.

Were scattered Literally, burst. The meaning is not that the mountains were scattered in different directions, but that the mountains burst open or were cleaved asunder (Zechariah 14:4).

Did bow In terror.

His ways are everlasting R.V., “His goings were as of old.” The construction of this clause is uncertain. If it is taken as an independent clause either of these translations may be correct; then the words would have to be regarded as a parenthetical exclamation. R.V. expresses the thought that the divine manifestations for the salvation of Israel resembled those of more ancient times, namely, in creation, in the flood, etc. A.V., following the Hebrew text more closely, declares that Jehovah’s manifestations continue forever. In either case the exclamation interrupts the description. Hence several commentators take the words in apposition to “mountains” and “hills,” which is permitted by the Hebrew, “his pathways from of old.” The mountains and hills which have been pathways of Jehovah from of old (Amos 4:13; Micah 1:3) were cleaved and bowed before him. With the entire description should be compared Judges 5:4-5; Psalms 18:7 ff.

Cushan… Midian The former is a lengthened form of Cush, meaning perhaps “tribe of Cush.” This cannot be the Cush, or Ethiopia, in Africa (see on Zephaniah 2:12); the parallel “Midian” suggests a territory in Arabia, perhaps the home of one of the wives of Moses (Numbers 12:1). A district Cush in Arabia is mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions. Probably both the Cushites and the Midianites were without settled abode; roaming up and down the desert, they stopped for a time wherever they could find pasture for their flocks. In the period of the Exodus the Midianites were near Mount Sinai; and this makes it probable that the poet alludes here to the events which took place there.

Tents… curtains The second refers to the tent curtains. The expressions include the persons living in the tents. They were terrified when they beheld the wonderful manifestations of Jehovah.

Verses 3-15

The mighty works of Jehovah in the past, Habakkuk 3:3-15.

This section describes the mighty acts of Jehovah for a revival of which the prophet prays. It falls naturally into three parts: (1) a description of Jehovah’s terrible approach (3-7); (2) a question Why did he manifest himself? (8-11); (3) the answer For the salvation of his people (12-15).

Verses 8-11

Why did Jehovah manifest himself in terror? Habakkuk 3:8-11.

In Habakkuk 3:8 the poet inquires of Jehovah why all this was done; in 9-11 he continues the description; but throughout the whole section runs the question, Why?

Was Jehovah displeased against the rivers? A literal translation of the first two lines is as follows, “Was displeasure against rivers, O Jehovah? was thy anger against the rivers?” Had they done anything to arouse the divine indignation? This is only a rhetorical question, for the singer knows well enough that a loftier motive impelled Jehovah (Habakkuk 3:13).

The sea Undoubtedly the Red Sea; the reference is again to events connected with the Exodus.

Ride upon… horses… chariots Jehovah is pictured as a man of war advancing to battle; his horses and chariots are the storm clouds (Psalms 18:10; Isaiah 19:1).

Of salvation The chariots are so called because wherever Jehovah appears deliverance is sure to be wrought. The idea is still very general; not until Habakkuk 3:13 is there a specific reference to the deliverance of Israel. A suitable rendering would be “victorious chariots.” Some take the last words as a separate statement, “thy chariots are salvation,” but this involves an improbable interpretation. The text of Habakkuk 3:8 is not above suspicion, but even as it stands the thought is clear; the poet inquires why Jehovah has smitten the rivers and the sea with such terrible fury. Various emendations have been attempted. Marti thinks the original to have been, “Was against the rivers thine anger, or against the sea, O Jehovah, thy wrath? thou didst cause to walk over the sea thy horses, thy chariots over heaps of water.”

Habakkuk 3:9 pictures Jehovah standing upon his chariot ready for battle.

Thy bow was made quite naked R.V., “bare.” The covering is removed and the bow is ready for use. The bow is not, as is thought by some, the rainbow, but the bow of the warrior God with which he shoots the thunderbolts. According to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word R.V., “The oaths to the tribes were a sure word.” The present Hebrew text plus a considerable amount of imagination may give this translation, the thought being that the promises made to the tribes of Israel by Jehovah were sure of fulfillment. The peculiarity of the Hebrew and the fact that the thought which can be gotten from it does not fit in the context have led most commentators to suspect a corruption of the text. The marginal translation, “Sworn were the chastisements of thy word,” does not remove the difficulty. Of the many translations offered, in Delitzsch’s day about one hundred, not one can be considered quite satisfactory. An easy way out of the difficulty is to say with Von Orelli that “the words are intentionally enigmatical in solemn menace.” It is more likely, however, that the obscurity has arisen from a corruption of the text. Partly on the basis of LXX. and partly by conjecture Nowack emends, “Thou hast filled with arrows thy quiver,” which is more suitable than the present text.

Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers Or, into rivers. Jehovah cleaved the earth and rivers flowed from it. If the poet thinks of manifestations of divine power in general, this is the most natural rendering; if he has in mind the Exodus, a better translation, equally possible so far as the Hebrew is concerned, would be, “Thou didst cleave the rivers into dry land.” Jehovah smote the rivers, so that they became dry land, and the people passed over them dry-shod (Isaiah 11:15).

Habakkuk 3:10 presents another picture of the convulsions in nature.

The mountains saw thee, and they trembled Even the majestic mountains were terror-struck (compare Habakkuk 3:6); literally, were in agony. The verb denotes the agony of a woman in childbirth. LXX. reads “nations saw,” but the Hebrew is preferable.

The overflowing of the water passed by Here again the Hebrew is peculiar. The clause is commonly interpreted as meaning that when the mountains were rent in pain, water burst forth. A very slight emendation, favored by the similar passage in Psalms 77:17, would give “the clouds poured out water,” which gives good sense and supplies a suitable contrast to the next clause.

The deep uttered his voice The deep denotes ordinarily the great subterranean waters (see on Amos 7:4; compare Genesis 7:11), but here the poet may be thinking of the Red Sea (compare Isaiah 63:13). The voice is the roar of the troubled waters.

And lifted up his hands A figurative description of the heaping up of the waves by the storm. The throwing up of the hands is an involuntary act of terror; perhaps there is also implied the thought of raising the hands in a frantic appeal for mercy. Partly on the basis of LXX. some commentators change “hands” into “roar.”

11. To increase the terror, black darkness covered the whole earth.

Stood still in their habitation The habitation is the place whence the sun and moon were thought to come forth, and whither they were thought to return at the close of the journey. “The sun and the moon,” says Delitzsch, “withdraw altogether, from the fear and horror which pervade all nature and which are expressed in the mountains by trembling, in the waters by roaring, and in the sun and moon by obscuration.” This interpretation is preferable to that of Ewald, that they “turn pale in consequence of the surpassing brilliancy of the lightnings” (compare Isaiah 24:23).

Arrows… spear The thunderbolts and flashes of lightning which Jehovah sent against his enemies (Psalms 18:14; Psalms 77:17-18). From Habakkuk 3:8 on the manifestation of Jehovah is described, as frequently in the Old Testament, in the imagery of a thunderstorm.

The salvation of his people was the object of Jehovah, 12-15.

Verse 12

12. Through the land Better, through the earth; for Jehovah fought against more than one nation.

Thresh Literally, tread down (see on Amos 1:3; compare 2 Kings 13:7; Job 39:15). He spared no one.

In indignation,… in anger Because they had wronged his people.

Habakkuk 3:13 declares, at last, why Jehovah went forth.

Thou wentest forth To war on behalf of his people (Judges 5:4; Isaiah 42:13).

For the salvation To bring deliverance from all enemies. Of thy people,…

with thine anointed This is a literal reproduction of the original; but the expression “with thine anointed” creates difficulty. Who is this anointed one? It cannot be the expected Messiah, because the verse points to events in the past. R.V. renders “of thine anointed,” which produces a good parallelism and suggests that “thy people” and “thine anointed” are identical. In other passages also the term is applied to the nation, for anyone who has a special commission from Jehovah may be called “the anointed one.” In accordance with this principle the term is applied to Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), to the high priest (Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 4:5; Leviticus 4:16), to the king (1 Samuel 24:6), to the patriarchs (Psalms 105:15), to the godly in the nation (Psalms 132:10), and to the people Israel (Psalms 84:9; Psalms 89:38; Psalms 89:51). It must refer to the people, even if the translation of A.V. is retained; he went forth with his people for their salvation.

Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked This might possibly mean that Jehovah smote the head of the chief of the evildoers, but with this translation the last clause becomes unintelligible; margin R.V.

gives better sense, “Thou didst smite off the head from the house of the wicked man.” To this may be joined the rest of the verse as translated in R.V., “laying bare the foundation even unto the neck.” The last clause indicates that, though the whole is figurative, within the figure “house” is to be understood literally; the “head” is the upper part, the roof, the “neck” is its central portion, the “foundation” the lowest part; the “wicked man” is the enemy of the “anointed one.” The whole is a picture of the utter destruction of this enemy of the people of Jehovah. Who this enemy is taken to be depends upon the interpretation of the poem as a whole. If the poet is describing the divine interference at the time of the Exodus, the enemy is Pharaoh or the Egyptian nation; if the poem contains a summary of all the divine manifestations of the past, he represents all the hostile nations ever encountered by Israel; if it points to the future, which is not likely, he is the Chaldean. The tone of the entire context suggests that the first view is to be preferred (compare Habakkuk 3:15). Laying bare (R.V.) Used here in the general sense of “destroy” (Micah 1:6; Psalms 137:7).

It must be admitted that the whole figure is a strange one; LXX. either read a different text or could not make anything out of the Hebrew; several recent commentators consider the text hopelessly corrupt.

Verses 12-15

Habakkuk 3:12-15 supply the answer to the question in Habakkuk 3:8. Jehovah showed himself terrible not because he was displeased with the rivers, or the sea, or the mountains, but because his anger was kindled against the nations that oppressed his own people. Against the former he marched for the salvation of the latter.

Verse 14

14. The enemy was overwhelmed completely when his warriors were cut to pieces.

With his staves Or, spears; R.V., “with his own staves”; that is, the staves of the enemy. His own weapons, now directed by Jehovah, will be used by the destroyers (compare Ezekiel 38:21; Zechariah 14:13). It is not impossible, however, that for “his” we should read “thy,” that is, the staves or spears of Jehovah (compare Habakkuk 3:11).

The head of his villages R.V., “the head of his warriors.” The doubtful word is found only here; LXX. renders “princes.” The use of other words derived from the same root would favor the meaning “inhabitants of the plain,” in distinction from those living in walled towns; hence the translation of A.V., “villages.” From the meaning people scattered over the plain the more general “crowd” or “multitude” (compare margin, “hordes”) is derived, and since the poet deals with war, a “horde of warriors”; and this seems to be the meaning most suitable in this place, Jehovah pierced the heads of the hostile warriors.

They came out as a whirlwind These words are better connected with the preceding as a relative clause, “who came out as a whirlwind,” that is, with the swiftness and violence of a storm.

To scatter me In the vividness of the description the poet transposes himself into the midst of the events and includes himself among the people threatened by the enemy.

Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly Again better taken as a relative clause, “whose rejoicing.… “ The thought of the line seems to be that, while the enemies were advancing, they rejoiced at the thought of the helplessness of Israel, and they looked forward with exultation to the moment when they would have the poor, helpless people at their mercy, to devour them at their leisure (compare Exodus 14:3; Exodus 15:9). The figure is taken from the practice of a wild beast to seize the prey and carry it to its den, there to devour it (Psalms 10:9; Isaiah 5:29). While this seems to be the general thought, it is difficult to get it from the present Hebrew text. Marti alters the text of Habakkuk 3:14 so as to read, “thou didst pierce with thy weapons his head; his princes scattered like chaff; to scatter me came their army, to devour the poor in secret.”

Verse 15

Habakkuk 3:15 closes the description of the mighty works of Jehovah in the past.

Thine horses See on Habakkuk 3:8.

Sea… the heap of great waters Here, as throughout the entire poem, the reference seems to be to the events connected with the Exodus from Egypt; in this verse to the crossing of the Red Sea. Jehovah, the mighty conqueror, delivered his people in that greatest crisis in their history (Exodus 14:15; compare Isaiah 11:15-16); well may the singer trust that he will not fail them in the present calamity.

Verse 16

16. When I heard R.V. simply, “I heard.” The report of thee (Habakkuk 3:2); that is, the report of the wonderful manifestations of Jehovah in the hour of Israel’s distress (compare 3-15).

My belly trembled R.V., “my body.” An expansion of “was afraid” (Habakkuk 3:2). Jehovah’s approach was terrible to behold, so that all nature trembled. No wonder that even the report of it should cause the prophet and the people to quake, though they have nothing to fear.

My lips quivered The verb is used elsewhere of the ringing of the ears (1 Samuel 3:11; 2 Kings 21:12); in this place the poet may mean more than simply the quivering of the lips, he may have in mind also the chattering of the teeth; so that “lips” would stand for the lips plus the teeth covered by the lips.

At the voice Since nothing is said of a voice speaking to the singer, the noun may be used in the more general sense of “report,” or of “noise” (Genesis 3:8; 1 Kings 1:41), made by Jehovah advancing to battle. The events are so vivid in the mind of the singer that he seems to hear Jehovah coming.

Rottenness entered into my bones Terror robbed him of all strength; his powers became paralyzed.

I trembled in myself R.V., “in my place”; literally, under me, that is, where I stood (Exodus 16:29; 2 Samuel 2:23). His knees shook under him.

To this point the verse is quite clear; it describes the fear which seized the poet when he remembered the mighty works of Jehovah. The rest is exceedingly obscure. The translators were perplexed, as may be seen from the differences between the two translations: A.V., “that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops”; R.V., “Because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming up of the people that invadeth us.” The translation of A.V. gives little sense, for how can the trembling produce rest in the day of trouble? R.V. is more satisfactory. It states that the trembling is due to the fact that the singer must sit down quietly and wait for the calamity that will befall his people, unable to do anything to turn it aside. But even this thought is not quite suitable; besides it is not very easy to get it from the present Hebrew text. For the last line, which is even more obscure, a third translation is offered in margin R.V., “when there shall come up against the people he that invadeth them.” Again A.V. gives the least sense; R.V. places the last line in apposition to the preceding, and the result is more satisfactory; the marginal reading expresses essentially the same idea. The whole verse becomes clearer, if in one point we follow LXX. instead of the present Hebrew text; the former does not seem to have read the relative, which the English translators reproduce as a conjunction, A.V. “that,” R.V. “because.” With this omitted the second part of Habakkuk 3:16 marks a new beginning and is to be understood not as an expression of fear but of confidence, like Habakkuk 3:17-19. At first the memory of the manifestations of Jehovah in the past terrified the psalmist: “I heard, and my body trembled, my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in my place.” But soon fear was displaced by confidence. If Jehovah could help then, surely he can help now; therefore he breaks out into a song of joy and confidence, of which 16b is the beginning: “I will wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming up of the people that invadeth us.” This interpretation of 16b is preferable to all others.

Verses 16-19

The poet’s confidence in Jehovah, the God of his salvation, Habakkuk 3:16-19.

In the closing verses of chapter 3 the psalmist describes the feelings produced within himself by the remembrance of the divine manifestations in the past; at first, fear and trembling (16a), then joy and confidence in the God of his salvation (16b-19).

Verses 17-19

Habakkuk 3:17-19 contain one of the most sublime expressions of confidence in Jehovah found anywhere in the Old Testament. If the above suggested interpretation of 16b is correct, Habakkuk 3:17 becomes the natural continuation. The prophet looks forward to the day of trouble announced in Habakkuk 1:6 ff., but the help of Jehovah in the past brings to him the assurance that in the present also he will stand by his people; therefore, however severe the temporary affliction, he will still rejoice in Jehovah and wait for the God of his salvation.

Fig tree… vines… olive The chief products of Palestine (see on Joel 1:7; Joel 1:10).

Fields The cornfields.

Meat Better, R.V., “food.”

Flock… herd A portion of the inhabitants of Judah remained shepherds throughout the entire history of the Hebrews. All the natural resources of Judah are here enumerated, and the poet assumes a complete failure of all these resources; but, he continues, though all may fail, he will rely upon Jehovah, who is his strength and will supply all his needs.

Some have thought that the historical background of Habakkuk 3:17 is not that of chapters 1, 2, and for this reason they have denied the entire third chapter to Habakkuk (see Introduction, p. 473). Others, for the same reason, have raised doubts concerning the genuineness of Habakkuk 3:17 or of Habakkuk 3:17-19. “This verse (17) does not suggest a condition of scarcity and barrenness arising from a hostile invasion of the land, but rather one due to severe natural calamities.” This consideration leads A.B. Davidson to say, “It is possible that the poem originally ended with Habakkuk 3:16, and that Habakkuk 3:17-19 are an addition.” In reply it may be pointed out (1) that the term “God of my salvation” is used frequently, if not exclusively, in connection with deliverance from enemies; (2) that expressions similar to those in Habakkuk 3:19 are used in Psalms 18:33, of Jehovah’s help against hostile armies. In any case, the objections can be urged only against Habakkuk 3:17; but even there it is by no means certain that the reference is to drought and resulting barrenness and to other natural calamities. A hostile army overrunning the land, destroying the crops, tramping down the fields, and killing the cattle and sheep could easily cause the very kind of suffering pictured in Habakkuk 3:17 (compare Isaiah 1:7-9, or almost any historical inscription of the Assyrian kings). Another objection, based upon the sudden transition from gloom to confidence, is without any force. Similar transitions occur in all poetry, they are very numerous in the psalms, and in the present case it is quite natural.

18, 19. Whatever the severity of the affliction, the prophet and those whose mouthpiece he is, will rejoice in Jehovah (Psalms 5:11), for he can supply all needs, and in due time he will prepare a way of escape.

God of my salvation A God who delivers from suffering and distress and restores to the former prosperity and felicity (Micah 7:7; Psalms 18:46). Habakkuk 3:19 shows resemblance with Psalms 18:32-33.

My strength The source of strength in times of calamity (Psalms 18:32; compare 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Like hinds’ feet The point of comparison is not named; it is undoubtedly swiftness, one of the most important qualifications of an ancient hero (2 Samuel 1:23; 1 Chronicles 12:8).

And he will make me to walk upon mine high places A continuation of the preceding figure; the high places are those on which the hinds skip. The thought is of the ease with which the singer, with Jehovah’s help, can walk firmly in difficult places and overcome obstacles which without Jehovah’s aid would be insurmountable. Ultimately the people of Jehovah will triumph. The thought remains the same if, following the most important ancient versions, we omit the pronoun “mine.”

Here ends the poem proper. What follows, “To the chief singer on my stringed instruments,” is the subscription, which, with the exception of the pronoun, is identical with the headings of several psalms in the Psalter (see Introduction, p. 473).

Chief singer R.V., “chief musician.” This word occurs in the headings of fifty-five psalms; it is a participial form of a verb used in Chronicles and Ezra in the sense of “superintending”; in 1 Chronicles 15:21, in the specific sense of “leading the music.” There can be little doubt that the word used here and in the psalm titles means “precentor” or “conductor” of the temple choir. Delitzsch thinks that “To the chief musician” is the direction to this leader to receive a hymn with that superscription into the temple collection.

On my stringed instruments The verb from which this noun is derived means “to pluck the strings,” “to play upon stringed instruments”; the phrase means, therefore, “with the accompaniment of stringed instruments,” and it is a direction that stringed instruments, and no others, are to be used to accompany the singing. The force of the pronoun “my” is doubtful. Does it refer to the poet in the sense that he will accompany the singing with his own stringed instruments? If so, the plural would not be expected. A comparison with Isaiah 38:20, has led some to interpret “my” in a collective sense, referring to the people, equivalent to “our.” If the pronoun is original, the second interpretation is to be preferred. LXX. reads “his,” that is, of the chief musician. However, in view of the fact that the pronoun is found nowhere in the psalm titles, it is probable that here also it should be omitted, that we should read simply, “on stringed instruments.”

Why this musical note stands at the end rather than at the beginning, as in the psalms, is still an open question. Some think that when this psalm was taken from the psalm collection (see Introduction, p. 473) the words, which were intended to be the heading of the next psalm, were copied erroneously and carried over with this psalm. As there were in the beginning no well-marked divisions between the separate psalms, such mistake might easily have been made. On the other hand, it is claimed (see Thirtle, The Titles of the Psalms) that originally only the notices indicating the author and the historical situation were placed at the head, while the musical notes were always placed at the end; that in the present case the original order has been preserved, while in the Psalter the musical notes have been taken from the end of the psalms for which they were intended and have been placed erroneously at the head of the succeeding psalms, which has resulted in much confusion. Thirtle has made out a strong case; he has succeeded in removing some grave difficulties, and much may be said in favor of his view; but it would be perhaps too much to claim that he has placed the subject entirely beyond question.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.