The Piety of the Prophet Habakkuk


The Piety of the Prophet Habakkuk

Habakkuk 3:1-19

Main Idea: The prophet Habakkuk offers a prayer wherein he resolves to trust in the sovereignty of God’s mysterious ways of dealing with the human predicament.

  1. I. The Priestly Convocation (3:1-2)
  2. II. The Psalm of Exaltation (3:3-15)
  3. III. The Prophetic Consolation (3:16-19)

The Priestly Convocation

Habakkuk 3:1-2

Habakkuk 3 begins with a title indicating that this is a prayer of the prophet. The title includes the musical term Shigionoth, which probably refers to a type of song. It is found once in the book of Psalms in 7:1, though the meaning of the term is unknown. It is fitting that Habakkuk’s profound dialogue with God in chapters 1–2 now rises into prayer and worship, especially coming after 2:20, in which the Lord is enthroned in His holy temple. Prayer is the proper response of the prophet to all he has learned from the Lord. After being astounded by the plans of the Lord, what more should the prophet do except to submit to the Lord in prayer? We should learn from Habakkuk when we encounter perplexing realities.

Verse 2 begins the prayer, which is most likely in the form of a song. The prophet confesses that he has heard the report about the Lord, but now he stands in awe of the works of the Lord. It’s as if he were saying, “I heard, but now I see!” In terms of understanding, it’s one thing to hear but quite another to see. His challenging dialogue with God has given him a deeper knowledge and understanding of the ways of God. He has come through this experience having been changed by his encounter with the Lord. This is reminiscent of Job’s confession to the Lord in Job 42:5-6, where he says, “I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.” Habakkuk has grown in maturity in the faith. What he has learned about God leaves him in awe. The prophet has begun his prayer by acknowledging the awesome nature of God.

Next, he issues a threefold petition before the Lord that culminates in the appeal for mercy on behalf of God’s people. He asks the Lord to revive His work, reveal it to His people, and remember mercy through it all.

Habakkuk calls on the Lord to revive His work. God’s work apparently was quickly forgotten after the reforms of King Josiah of Judah. Whereas Habakkuk was distraught before when he first heard God’s plan to deal with the sinfulness of Judean society, now he implores the Lord to do what He has revealed He would do with Judah. This is a complete change from Habakkuk’s earlier apprehensions. He only asks that the Lord remember to be merciful amid the execution of His rightful wrath against sinners in Judah. Wrath is that attribute of God wherein He rightly exercises divine punishment for sin. The prophet intercedes for mercy because his heart has been enlightened to the need for God’s divine justice in Judah. What a profound prayer! In wrath remember mercy! Without mercy, God’s wrath would completely destroy God’s people. Without mercy, there would be no opportunity for sinners to receive grace. Mercy tempers justice. The prayer for mercy is appropriate for Christians to pray today for the church and for the world.

The Psalm of Exaltation

Habakkuk 3:3-15

Verses 3-15 are poetic in genre and consist of three divisions.

Verses 3-7 are written in third person and form the first account of God’s mighty deliverance of His people. One might expect this portion of the poem to begin with the Lord coming from heaven to earth to deliver His people. Instead, He comes from the geographical southern region of Sinai and “Teman.” Teman was in the region known as Edom, but the name came to mean “south” because it was located far south of Israel (Roberts, Nahum, 132). Habakkuk is referring to the exodus event when God delivered His people from Egypt and led them in Sinai. Another significance of this statement may be that God comes from an unexpected direction to deliver His people. This would be consistent with Habakkuk’s experience: that God did the unexpected in order to deal with the society of Judah. “Mount Paran” is an ancient designation for the Sinai wilderness.

Theophany and terror are the two words that best describe the picture given us in verses 3b-7. The Lord will come in great splendor and glory, which will be seen everywhere in heaven and on earth. His appearing will be accompanied by two terrible weapons: plague and pestilence. His coming shakes the earth like a huge earthquake; everything and everyone will be shaken. His coming in judgment and deliverance will have cosmic effects, not just earthly.

Verses 8-11 are written in second person and describe the cosmic battle where the Lord, the divine warrior, overcomes the cosmic powers. The Lord will overcome the powers of darkness. The rivers, mountains, seas, sun, and moon will all be affected by the Lord’s victorious coming in judgment against sinners and deliverance for His people. This eschatological language not only anticipates the Lord’s coming in Habakkuk’s near future but also the day of the Lord at the end of time. The standing still of the sun and moon reminds us of Joshua 10:12-14, where the Lord made the sun and moon stand still for an entire day while Joshua and the Israelites defeated the Lord’s enemies.

These are words and images of comfort for Habakkuk because he knows that God is faithful to deliver His people and defeat His enemies. The prophet has the assurance of victory over all the problems he complained about at the beginning of his prophecy. We have the assurance that God will act on behalf of His people today because He has acted on behalf of His people in history.

Verses 12-15 continue the depiction of God as the divine warrior who defeats His enemies and brings salvation to His people. While verses 8-11 appear more cosmic in nature, verses 12-15 appear more historical. This part of the poem is focused on the leader of the enemies of God’s people, the king of Babylon. There are six declarations of the Lord’s victorious power over His enemies:

  • “You march across the earth with indignation” (v. 12a).
  • “You trample down the nations in wrath” (v. 12b).
  • “You come out to save Your people” (v. 13a).
  • “You crush the leader of the house of the wicked” (v. 13b).
  • “You pierce his head with his own spears” (v. 14).
  • “You tread the sea with Your horses” (v. 15).

The Lord’s wrath is directed against the nations that oppressed His people. He totally defeats the cosmic and earthly powers in order to save His people Judah. It may sometimes seem like a long time in coming, but God will act on behalf of His people with great power and victory. The Lord is exalted because He is the Savior of His people in every generation.

The Prophetic Consolation

Habakkuk 3:16-19

These final verses of Habakkuk contain some of the most beautiful and profound words ever written. James Montgomery Boice wrote,

What is it that makes this chapter, and particularly the final verses, so forceful? In my judgment it is the courageous way in which Habakkuk embraces all the calamities he can imagine and nevertheless triumphs over them in the knowledge and love of his Savior. (Minor Prophets, 433)

In verse 16 Habakkuk reports his personal response to all that has been revealed to him by the Lord. It is not clear whether the prophet is referring to the coming attack on Judah (1:5-11) or the divine theophany (3:3-15). I think both these cataclysmic events are behind his response when he experiences great emotional and physical trauma at the hearing of the sound of approaching judgment. It is not clear whether he is literally hearing the sound of the approaching invaders or if he is anticipating their arrival at some point in the future. In either case, the profound sense of dread can be felt in his statement of resolve in verse 16: “Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us.” He waited on the Lord’s answer in 2:1, and now he will wait for the fulfillment of that answer in the future.

Waiting on the Lord is often not easy for us because only the Lord knows exactly how long He will take to fulfill His promise. Since God is not confined to time and space as we are, it can be challenging for us to wait, not knowing how long. This is where our faith in God is tested the most. Do we trust God no matter how long it takes? Are we willing to persevere in faith to the end? Do we still trust God, even if the fulfillment of His promise doesn’t happen in our lifetime? Habakkuk has resolved in his heart that he will trust the Lord whatever happens.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (vv. 17-19)

The prophet has come a long way on his spiritual journey from complaint to contentment. In the beginning of his prophecy Habakkuk was deeply disturbed by all he had seen around him in Judean society. But now after seeing his Savior coming in His splendor, he has become deeply determined to trust in the Lord. Habakkuk will rejoice in the good news of God our Savior even though there is bad news for Judah. The good news is that God is faithful even when we are not faithful. Like Habakkuk, we can also walk on the heights when we put our trust in the sovereignty of our God who reigns over all the nations of the earth. When the Lord is our strength, we can rise above the troubles of this world and say like Habakkuk, “He enables me to walk on mountain heights!”

Verse 19b. The colophon at the end of the verse contains musical instructions for the director of music. This indicates that chapter 3 is also a musical piece. No further information is given.


The prophecy of Habakkuk is one of the most challenging and engaging books in the Bible. The issues Habakkuk treats are profound and complex. There are no easy answers to be found in the book of Habakkuk. It demands serious prayer, thoughtful reflection, and persistent reading over and over again to attempt to understand the truths that are contained in this prophecy. Yet, for the Christian who dares to take the challenge, the spiritual rewards can be immense. Habakkuk’s prophecy contains deep truths of the gospel that few Christians venture to understand. Contained within his oracles is the gospel according to the prophets of the Old Testament. Though at first Habakkuk struggled to understand the ways of God, he would come to a point of total surrender after receiving the word of God in a vision from God. Habakkuk’s journey is the journey of every believer who seeks more than a mere simplistic knowledge of God and superficial faith in God.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Is Habakkuk 3 a prayer, a song, or both? Do you know any songs that are also prayers?
  2. Where were Teman and Mount Paran located geographically? What is the significance of God coming from that direction?
  3. How would you teach about the wrath of God in your small group?
  4. How would you teach about the mercy of God in your small group?
  5. How do you pray for your enemies—for wrath, or for mercy?
  6. How do we gain comfort and encouragement from images of God as the victorious divine warrior? How does that image relate to Christ as the Lion and Lamb in Revelation?
  7. What was Habakkuk’s resolve? What do you do to keep your faith strong while you are waiting for an answer from God?
  8. What kind of response did Habakkuk have to the thought of the coming judgments? What have you read in Scripture that affects you the most deeply?
  9. Why would Habakkuk rejoice even though there is bad news for God’s people?
  10. How has Habakkuk’s attitude changed from chapters 1 and 2? What changed him—was it more information or a change of heart?