A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
2 Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3 God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
6 He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
Verse 2 begins Habakkuk’s prayer in response to all of the revelation given by God on what will soon transpire. Habakkuk expresses his faith in God’s omnipotence both past and present. He calls to mind all of the mighty things God has done for His people over the years since Abraham was first called. Habakkuk desires for God to remember that Israel is His chosen people, and acknowledges Israel’s sin in repentance by asking God to recount His mercy towards them, even during this time of wrath for what they have done, just as in times past. Habakkuk knows that there is reason for what is about to befall them through the use of the Chaldeans, and therefore underlines his prayer with reassurance that God is correct in His judgement.
The continuing verses are an account of what God had previously done in history. God came from Teman… Teman is a reference to the Arabian desert where the Israelites wandered for 40 years. It is named for one of Edom’s (Esau’s) sons who inhabited that land. Habakkuk is deliberately remembering the past, as God commanded for His people, so they would ever remember what He has done for them (see Deut. 6). Mount Paran is another name for Mount Sinai. The prophet is remembering where the Israelites have been, where they have come from, and that special revelation that was given to God’s chosen people through Moses. This is why he says it in the past tense, because those things did happen, and God was ‘officially’ leading them since that time.
8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
10 Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.” – Exodus 34
Though this part of the prayer is in past tense, it is understood that Habakkuk is recalling these things to remind God that the Israelites are His people, and presently are His inheritance – deserving of His mercies, at least for the faithful. Continuing, Habakkuk speaks of God’s glory, another reference to what Moses experienced on Sinai. His glory and radiance is enough to eclipse all of existence, and yet it is hidden and reserved for those who are considered righteous. Verse 5 is a reference to God’s power in destroying His and Israel’s enemies during and after their deliverances from Egypt. It is a reminder that God is in control of all things, good and evil. God is not the one doing the evil, though as it is written in Job 1:
12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Verse 6 is not a recollection of things that have happened, but more of a focus on God’s power and a reminder on just how powerful He can be at His choosing. God has no need to work for His glory to be made known – He stands, and the earth shakes. Just by a look God can make the nations tremble. These words help us, as His adopted children, to remember that we do not worship a God who is finished working. He is perfectly able to move mountains and throw them into the sea if He wills. He marches on forever – that is, He is never at rest – He is constantly perfecting us in our salvation. Line 7 brings comfort for the Jew who might read Habakkuk’s writings. Not only is God always all powerful, but as we tend to want sight to add to our faith, Habakkuk recalls God’s help against the Midianites through Gideon (Judges 6-8).
Grant, Almighty God, that as we have a continual contest with powerful enemies, we may know that we are defended by thine hand, and that even thou art fighting for us when we are at rest; so that we may boldly contend under thy protection, and never be wearied, nor yield to Satan and the wicked, or to any temptations; but firmly proceed in the course of our warfare: and however much thou mayest often humble us, so as to make us to tremble under thine awful judgement, may we yet never cease to entertain firm hope, since thou hast once promised to be to us an eternal Father in thine eternal and only-begotten Son, but being confirmed by the invincible constancy of faith, may we so submit ourselves to thee, as to bear all our afflictions patiently, till thou gatherest us at length into that blessed rest, which has been procured for us by the blood of thine own Son. Amen. – John Calvin