Habakkuk evokes the deer which nimbly “tread upon the heights,” escaping, in the end, the trampling horses of Babylon.
Habakkuk had been rightly concerned about the sins of the people growing ever more villainous and depraved. They were far from God in their hearts and minds, in their spirits, though they were also very religious in their ceremonies and sacrifices.
But, rather than further correction, even discipline, God revealed that judgment was now coming through the fearsome, formidable Babylonians.
Habakkuk was deeply troubled. But he waited on God, and finally God answered. After having written the oracle from the Lord in chapter 2, Habakkuk now prayed, humbly accepting God’s sovereignty and believing in faith on God’s goodness and love.
Habakkuk Knew God
O Lord, I have heard of your renown,Habakkuk 3:2
and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
The prophet stood in awe of God, the first, most essential, secret of effective prayer – humility, and an attitude of reverence.
God’s majesty, God’s glory made all else recede, so that Habakkuk was focused on God, not on his current circumstances, nor the dreadful times to come.
The second secret in effective prayer is worship and adoration – “I have heard of your renown, I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.”
Throughout his prayer, from verses 3 to 15, Habakkuk described the glorious, majestic God at work in judgment.
- Verse 3, God’s glory covered the heavens and the earth was full of God’s praise.
- Verse 4, God’s power is so mighty it is as bright as the sun, pouring from God’s hands.
- Verse 5, God’s might is seen in the comprehensiveness and completeness of his judgment.
- Verse 6, God’s very presence causes the whole earth and all that is upon it, including cities and mountains, to shake and shatter.
- Verse 6, God is eternal, God’s ways have been established since antiquity.
- Verse 7, God easily has the victory.
- Verses 7-11, The most terrifying and vaulted of natural powers, mountains, seas, celestial orbs, surrender utterly to God.
- Verses 7-12, God’s implacable wrath and unrelentingfury will overcome all obstacles
- Verse 13, God is Savior to God’s people
- Verses 14-15, God is mightier than any enemy, God will crush wickedness, conquering it completely, to its very foundation.
Habakkuk Remembered God
Of special note is the final verse in this exaltation of God.
You trampled the sea with your horses,Habakkuk 3:15
churning the mighty waters.
God’s mighty act of victory over the Egyptian armies a thousand years and more before had delivered God’s people from ruthless enslavement, for the waters that had stood at attention by the breath of God, had now come crashing over Pharaoh and his hapless cavalry.
Watch the theme of the Lord thundering in God’s mighty, heavenly chariots, in heavy pursuit of the enemy, culminating in God’s climactic triumph—
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Or your anger against the rivers,
or your rage against the sea,
when you drove your horses,
your chariots to victory?
. . . You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw you, and writhed;
a torrent of water swept by;
the deep gave forth its voice
. . . You came forth to save your people,
to save your anointed.
. . . You trampled the sea with your horses,Habakkuk 3:8, 9-10, 13, 15
churning the mighty waters.
Habakkuk Asked of God
The third secret is to pray in accord with what God desires – Habakkuk asked the Lord to renew God’s deeds, not any plan of Habakkuk’s.
We need to return to verse 2 to see it.
your work:Habakkuk 3:2
In our own time revive it;
in our own time make it known;
in wrath may you remember mercy.
Here is where you and I can often miss the point! When something starts falling apart, some crisis occurs, we cry out, “O God rescue me, fix this, put it back together again!”
But that may not be God’s agenda at all.
You and I do well when we ask the Lord to do God’s work in the situation: “Not my will but yours, O God.”
Habakkuk made three requests of God:
- O God, your work has gained great renown among the nations, everyone has heard of your past mighty deeds. Please revive your work among us now, in our time, with fresh deeds of power and glory.
- O God, I stand in awe of the magnitude and majesty of your work. There is nothing like what you do. Please make your work known among us now, in our time, that our reverence will be renewed.
- O God, your wrath is just and deserved. Please now remember your love for us, and may you show your love through mercy, that you will be revealed as both righteous and loving, both just and merciful, among all the peoples of earth.
Habakkuk Feared God
I hear, and I tremble within;Habakkuk 3:16
my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
and my steps tremble beneath me.
I wait quietly for the day of calamity
to come upon the people who attack us.
Habakkuk vividly portrayed his terror – heart‑pounding, lips quivering, that creepy feeling inside, knees knocking horror.
God had said to the prophet, If the Day of Judgment seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. So Habakkuk settled himself to wait quietly, for there would be no stopping what was coming.
Habakkuk Committed Himself in Faith to God
After this Habakkuk made his commitment with five points:
- Verse 17, I will look at the absolute worst that could happen, I will fully face what I fear the most, deep down, and not lose hope
- Verse 18 I will still take joy in my God, because nothing can take God from me. I will rejoice in the Lord, God is real, and I belong to the Lord.
- Verse 18, I will exult in God, who is my deliverer. I believe that this will all be brought to eternal glory, for God is my salvation.
- Verse 19, God is my present strength, the Lord will enable me to accomplish whatever God asks, to triumph
- Verse 19, God will give me the ability to climb the mountain the Lord has placed me on.
Though the fig tree does not blossom,Habakkuk 3:17-19
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.
The very last line in this oracle may be Habakkuk’s own notation, or a later instruction added by the team of editors who compiled all the books of the Hebrew Bible into one body of work.
To the leader: with stringed instruments.
It is heartwarming to see this prayer written as a hymn of praise and faith in God. It reminds me of the refrain of a hymn I have often sung when I was in want of spiritual fortitude:
But “I know whom I have believed,D. W. White, I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace, 1883 | Public Domain
and am persuaded that he is able
to keep that which I’ve committed
unto him against that day.”
[“The Scripture quotations contained herein are from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.”]
[Habakkuk | The Jewish Museum, James Tissot / Public Domain]