Read the Passage: Habakkuk 3:1-19
Plea for Mercy (3:1–2)
In Hab. 3:1–2 Habakkuk asks for mercy in the midst of the impending judgment God had foretold in Hab. 1-2. This was important, for Habakkuk was going to witness and experience the Babylonian siege firsthand. Habakkuk prays, “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). The report that Habakkuk mentions is the Lord’s reply to his questions at Hab. 1:5–11; 2:2–20. Here God had told Habakkuk that He was sending the Babylonians to judge Israel, and that He would eventually judge the Babylonians, too. The essence of Habakkuk’s prayer was that in the midst of God’s impending judgment, He would be merciful. This prayer was a prayer for relief from judgment that had not yet come.
Review of Power (3:3–16)
In Hab. 3:3–15 the prophet described God’s majesty and judgment as was manifest in the exodus event and in the capture of the land of Canaan. This passage reiterates the sheer power of God and expressed confidence in God’s complete sovereignty. In Hab. 3:3–7 Habakkuk remembers God’s glory and judgment on the Egyptians and Canaanites as Israel entered the Promised Land. Interestingly, Habakkuk recalls the “pestilence and fever” (Hab. 3:5) inflicted by God against Israel for their continual sin and rebellion during the exodus. The emphasis in this passage is not only upon God’s victory, but also upon His sovereignty. This sovereignty includes even the judgment of God’s people. It seems as though Habakkuk is remembering God’s justice, righteousness, and mercy in the past as a means of encouraging himself and the people in the present.
In Habakkuk 3:8–16 the prophet continues to rehearse God’s mighty works during the exodus event. Hab. 3:9–10 are a general review of the power of God in creation. Such general revelation is often cited in Scripture (cf. Job 38–41; Ps. 19). Exodus allusions in Hab. 3:11–16 include: (1) the sun and moon standing still, as they did in Josh. 10:12–14; (2) marching through the land, as Joshua did in Josh. 6:1–27; (3) killing of the first born, as happened in Exod. 12:29–30; (4) walking through the sea, as happen at the Red Sea in Exod. 14:1–31. All of these past events show God’s sure judgment of the wicked and provision for the righteous. Consequently, Habakkuk declares, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound . . . my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (Hab. 3:16).
Hymn of Faith (3:17–19)
Upon dialoging with God and pondering the historical faithfulness and righteousness of the Lord, in Hab. 3:16–19 the prophet expresses his faith in God. Hab. 3:17–18 reveals that the Habakkuk finally realized that God’s justice cannot be measured by personal flourishing. The conversation that began with complaints ends in a declaration of trust and praise. Habakkuk declares, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17–18). Note the parallels between the book of Job and the book of Habakkuk. In both instances the writer questions God’s justice, dialogs with God, and does not receive a specific answer. Yet, the conversation leads to faith.
- Is your interest in the things of God driven by personal benefit or by a desire to know more about God in order to better worship him?
- In the past, when you’ve realized someone is on a sinful path, have you prayed for the Lord’s mercy upon them or have you asked for judgment?
- How do thoughts of God’s past judgment and mercy encourage you in the midst of present trials?
- Do you have confidence in God’s ability to exercise authority over all the earth? Do you trust in God’s cosmic purposes and control?
- Like Habakkuk in Hab. 3:17–18, and beforehand Job, can you testify, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15)?