• The Explore the Bible lesson for May 3 focuses on Habakkuk 3:1-6, 11-13, 16-19.
Context of Habakkuk 3
Scholars and novices to Bible reading may struggle alike at times to translate Habakkuk 3 due to the ways in which scribes copied or transmitted the passage over the years. When one has difficulty with translation, however, a thorough study of the biblical and cultural contexts can help a great deal. For instance, we learned last week Habakkuk labored with his theodicy—an attempt to explain why a good and just God would allow bad things to happen. Habakkuk indeed speaks clearly and boldly for those of us who rightly wrestle with our theology.
Habakkuk’s tone, however, is somewhat softened by chapter 3. He seems to have gone from a restless prophet to a calm servant. He moves from a tense back-and-forth conversation with God (Habakkuk 1) to an assertion of faith in the Lord. How can this be? We find no evidence Habakkuk’s mood or even his trust in the Lord wavered since the first chapter. Yet, in this case Habakkuk offered a prayer “on shigionoth” (3:1). We have some difficulty knowing for sure how to define “shigionoth.” Most likely, it is a type of musical response that means something like “to reel.”
Consequently, what we may be reading and hearing in the given passage is Habakkuk’s use of another approach in conversing with God. That is, Habakkuk creatively and reverently pleads with the Lord yet again, but in so doing, Habakkuk not only furthers his struggle with a theodicy but also comes to realize some extremely important avenues for worshipping God in the midst of such a struggle. Habakkuk traveled these avenues well, and his confidence was bolstered by the fact that God had acted strongly on behalf of the faithful in the past. God will not disappoint this time, as well. We will turn our attention to four of these worshipful avenues in our examination of the text.
Stand in awe (3:1-2)
In the midst of his reeling, Habakkuk placed total confidence in Yahweh. Habakkuk leaned on his knowledge of God to help him through tough days. In fact, Habakkuk recounted how he had heard of God’s fame. Habakkuk not only heard God’s revelation of judgment as noted in the first two chapters, but also Habakkuk heard of God’s work among God’s people throughout history. Many scholars think Habakkuk crafted the following verses (vv. 3-15) as a poetic allusion to the Exodus. Habakkuk is a man who, although he struggled with theodicy and theology, put trust in the everlasting and omniscient God. God would continue to be in charge of governing of the world.
Accordingly, Habakkuk prayed for immediate help and assistance from the Lord. He expected the Lord to intervene and to be available to the faithful ones, just as God had rescued his people during the Exodus. Yet, Habakkuk also knew the only way one could escape the full vent of God’s wrath was to lean on the mercy of God. Habakkuk truly stood in awe and fear of the Lord.
Tremble in his splendor (3:3-6)
Habakkuk shared a theophany at this point in his message. A theophany is a report about the attributes or appearance of God. His vision began with a statement about the movement of God “from Teman” and “Mount Paran.” Habakkuk’s poetic language asserted God not only was on the march but also would arrive in all of his splendor from the south of Judah. God would rise up to meet the challenges of the day. Consider, too, the appearance of God. God’s glory, or bright presence, would light up the sky and fill the atmosphere. Habakkuk could only liken God’s glory to the brightest known object—the sun. The rays of his brightness and omnipotence would even flash from God’s hand. God definitely is in charge.
Habakkuk further mentioned God’s control of the created order. For instance, pestilence and plague whirled around the Lord. It is likely these terms refer to the days of the Exodus. Mountains also crumbled beneath the weight of God’s might. Readers ought to take note of the awesome power of God and plan our lives accordingly.
Celebrate his victory (3:11-13)
God not only has command of creation, but also of creatures. In fact, Habakkuk pictured God striding through the earth and threshing the nations as a farmer sifts wheat or as a beast of burden threshes corn. In other words, God knows exactly how to deal with people and even nations that turn a blind eye to him. Perhaps we may do well to be reminded of the eerily similar words of Jesus: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus recognized the challenge before all people either to go the way of egotism or to move toward the kingdom of God in the midst of our struggles with worry and earthly possessions. Jesus also had no qualms about telling his listeners the end result of disobedience and rejecting him. Will we serve the righteous king?
Rejoice in faith (3:16-19)
Habakkuk even responded physically to the impending judgment and movement of God among the nations. His words indicate his heart pounded, and he trembled uncontrollably. Yet even in his distress, Habakkuk found a reason to rejoice. He had concluded even though all may seem to go wrong around him, God’s strength and power would sustain him. How many of us are so certain of God we would dedicate ourselves to waiting on him patiently while the entire foundation of our society crumbles? Habakkuk provided a stout lesson, then, in trusting the Lord even while we question and struggle with God. God will sustain the faithful in good times and bad. We can be assured of the Lord. His strength is perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).