§ 1. The title. A prayer. There is only one formal prayer in the ode, that in Hab_3:2; but the term is used of any devotional composition; and, indeed, the whole poem may be regarded as the development of the precatory sentences in the proemium. (For other hymns in the prophetical books, see Isa_24:1-23, and Isa_35:1-10.; Eze_19:1-14.; Jah 2.; Mic_6:6, etc.; and as parallel to this ode, comp. Deu_33:2, etc.; Jdg_5:4, etc.; Psa_68:7, etc.; Psa_77:13-20; Psa_114:1-8.; Isa_63:11-14.) Of Habakkuk the prophet. The name and title of the author are prefixed to show that this is no mere private effusion, but an outpouring of prophecy under Divine inspiration. Upon Shigionoth (comp. title of Psa_7:1-17.); Septuagint, μετὰ ᾠδῆς, “with song;” Vulgate, pro ignorantiis. For this latter rendering Jerome had etymological ground, but did not sufficiently consider the use of shiggayon in Psa_7:1-17; where it indicates the style of poetry, nor, as Keil shows, the fact that all the headings of Psalms introduced, as the present, with al, refer either to the melody, or accompaniment, or style in which they were to be sung. The Revised Version gives, “set to Shigionoth;” and the expression is best explained to mean, in an impassioned or triumphal strain, with rapid change of emotion, a dithy rambic song—a description which admirably suits this ode.
I have heard thy speech] I have heard the report of thee. The term appears always to express the report or bruit about one, e.g. Gen_29:13 the news about Jacob, 1Ki_10:1 about Solomon, Isa_23:5 about Tyre (her downfall); comp. Num_14:15; Isa_66:19; Nah_3:19. It seems also always to refer to something past and actual (unless Hos_7:12 be an exception); and this suggests that the allusion is to the divine manifestation at the Exodus.
and was afraid] Or, am afraid. Of course the prophet or the community in whose name he speaks (cf. Hab_3:14) did not fear hurt from the Theophany so long past, but the recital or the thought of it created alarm. Comp. Exo_14:30-31.
revive thy work] Though filled with fear at the thought of the divine interposition the prophet nevertheless prays for it. The term “revive” might mean to recall or bring back to life that which is dead (Hos_6:2), or to call into life and being what does not yet exist (Deu_32:39; 1Sa_2:6). The “work” of Jehovah is that which He does, any operation which He performs, ch. Hab_1:5; but the word is often used of His great historical acts done for His people, Psa_44:1; Psa_95:9; Deu_11:7; Jdg_2:7. The sense is thus either: bring into being a great act of Thine; or, renew, recall into life again, Thy former great work of redemption. The second sense is the more natural, and most in harmony with the following phrase “in the midst of the years.”
in the midst of the years] This cannot mean “within a few years” (Gesen.), a sense ill-suited to the tone of importunity in the passage; nor “amidst the years of distress,” because the idea of distress must have been expressed. The expression must describe the poet’s own time, for his prayer is for immediate divine interposition. Looking back to the far past event of the Exodus, the many years that have rolled by since then, he conceives of the position of himself and his people as amidst the years.
midst of the years make known] i.e. at this late time in our history make thy work known. Sept. regarded the verbal form as reflexive: make thyself (ox, let thyself be) known. So Wellh.
In wrath remember mercy] The “wrath” might be that lying on the people now; but it is more natural to understand it of the wrath which the judge will manifest when He intervenes among men. Comp. Isa_26:20, “Come, O my people, enter into thy chambers, hide thyself for a little moment until the indignation be overpast.” At the thought or the recital of God’s interposition in the past—type of every interposition of His—the poet trembled; yet he would encounter it for the sake of that which will come after it, and he prays that it may come again; then he prays that in that day of universal wrath he and his people may have mercy shewn them. Rev_3:10.
In this episode Habakkuk takes his imagery from the accounts of God’s dealings with his people in old time, in Egypt, at the Red Sea, at Sinai, at the Jordan, in Canaan; he echoes the songs of Moses and Deborah and the psalmist; and he looks on all these mighty deeds as antici-pative of God’s great work, the overthrow of all that opposes and the establishment of the kingdom of Messiah. God (Eloah) came from Teman. The words are connected with Moses’ description of the Lord’s appearance at Sinai (Deu_33:2; comp. Jdg_5:4). As he then came in glory to make a covenant with his people, so will he appear again in majesty to deliver them from the power of evil and to execute judgment. The verbs throughout are best rendered in the present. The prophet takes his stand in time preceding the action of the verb, and hence uses the future tense, thus also showing that he is prophesying of a great event to come, symbolized by these earlier manifestations. Habakkuk here and in Hab_1:11 trees the word Eloah, which is not found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or the other minor prophets; it occurs once in Isaiah, twice in Deuteronomy, and frequently in Job. There is no ground for the contention that its employment belongs to the latest stage of Hebrew. Teman; i.e. Edom; Vulgate, ab Austro (see notes on Amo_1:12 and Oba_1:9). In Moses’ song the Lord is said to come from Sinai. Habakkuk omits Sinai, says Pusey which was the emblem of the Law, and points to another Lawgiver, like unto Moses, telling how he who spake the Law, God. should come in the likeness of man. The Holy One. A name of God (Hab_1:12), implying that he will not let iniquity pass unpunished, and that he will preserve the holy seed. Mount Paran. The mountainous district on the northeast of the desert of Et-Tih. The glory of the Lord is represented as flashing on the two hilly regions separated by the Arabah. They both lay south of Canaan; and there is propriety in representing the redeemer and deliverer appearing in the south, as the Chaldean invader comes from the north. The LXX. adds two translations of the word “Pharan,” viz. “shady,” “rough;” according to its etymology it might also mean “lovely.” Selah; Septuagint, διάψαλμα. This term occurs also in verses 9, 13, and frequently in the Psalms, but nowhere else, and indicates some change in the music when the ode was sung in the temple service. What is the exact change is a matter of great uncertainty. Some take it to indicate “a pause;” others, connecting it with salah, “to lift up,” render it “elevation,” and suppose it means the raising of the voice, or the strengthening of the accompaniment, as by the blast of trumpets. The meaning must be left undetermined, though it must be added that it is always found at the end of a verse or hemistich, where there is a pause or break in the thought, or, as some say, some strongly accented words occur. His glory covered the heavens. His majestic brightness spread over the heavens, dimming the gleam of sun and stars; or it may mean his boundless majesty fills the highest heavens and encompasses its inhabitants. His praise. This is usually explained to signify that the earth and all that dwell therein, at this glorious manifestation, utter their praise. But there is no allusion as yet to the manner in which the appearance is received, and in verse 6 it produces fear and trembling; so it is best to take “praise” in the sense of “matter of praise,” that glory “which was calculated to call forth universal adoration” (Henderson).
His brightness was as the light; brightness appeareth like light, The sunlight is meant, as Job_31:26; Job_37:21; Isa_18:4. He had horns coming out of his hand; i.e. rays of light on either side. The comparison of the first rays of light to the horns of the gazelle, according to Keil, is common in Arabic poetry (comp. Exo_34:29, Exo_34:30). In the original passage, Deu_33:2, we read, “At his right hand was a fiery Law unto them”—a reference to the two tables of stone, perhaps resplendent with light. The “hand” in our text is a general expression, and is not to be taken with any special reference to lightning launched by the hand (which is not a scriptural expression), nor to works effected by God’s agency, but simply as signifying that the light of his presence streamed forth from both sides, i.e. everywhere. There was the hiding of his power. There, in that ineffable light, was the hiding place of his majesty. He clothes himself with light as with a garment (Psa_104:2), and the splendour is the mantle of that presence which eye of man cannot behold (Exo_24:17; 1Ti_6:16). Farrar quotes Psa_18:11, “He made darkness his secret place;” and Milton—
“Dark with excess of light his skirts appear.”
Septuagint, Ἔθετο ἀγάπησιν κραταιὰν ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ, which rendering has arisen from taking the adverb sham as a verb (sam), and mistaking the meaning of the following word.
After describing the splendour of the theophany, the prophet now turns to the purpose and effects of God’s appearing. He comes to avenge and judge, therefore before him went the pestilence. Before him stalks plague, to punish his enemies and the disobedient, as in Egypt, in Canaan (Exo_23:27; 1Sa_5:9, 1Sa_5:11); and among his own people (Num_11:33; Num_14:37, etc.; Le Num_26:25). For “pestilence” the LXX. reads “word.” Burning coals went forth at his feet. “Fiery belts” followed his advance, “hailstones and coals of fire” (Psa_18:12, Psa_18:13); as in Psa_97:8, “A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies on every side.” But, regarding the parallelisms of the hemistiches, it is better to take resheph in the sense of “fever heat,” as in Deu_32:24; scorching fever follows in his train. Jerome translates the word, diabolus, looking on the evil spirit as the agent of the Divine vengeance. The Jews, he says, had a tradition that Satan was called Reseph, from the speed of his movements. The LXX. has, “It (the word) shall go forth into the plains,” which Jerome interprets, “shall make the crooked straight and the rough ways smooth.”
He stood, and measured the earth. God takes his stand, and surveys the earth which he is visiting in judgment. As his glory filled the heavens, so now he with his presence paces the earth, measuring it, as it were, with his foot. He considers, too, all the doings of the children of men, and requites them accordingly. Vulgate, Stetit, et mensus est terram. So the Syriac. On the other hand, the LXX. gives, Ἔστη καὶ ἐσαλέυθη ἡ γῆ, “The earth stood and quaked.” Thus the Chaldee, and many modem commentators, “rocketh the earth.” This rendering seems to anticipate what follows, and is not so suitable as the other, though it is quite admissible. Drove asunder. Dispersed and scattered. Septuagint, διετάκη ἔθνη, “nations melted away.” Others translate, “made to tremble” (Exo_15:15, etc.). The everlasting mountains. Mountains that have lasted as long as creation, and are emblems of stability and permanence (Deu_33:15). Were scattered; or, were shattered (comp. Mic_1:4; Nah_1:5). His ways are everlasting. This is best taken alone, not as connected grammatically with the preceding clause, and epexegetical of the “hills and mountains,” which are called God’s “ways,” i.e. his chief creative acts, as Job_40:19; Pro_8:22; but it means that, as God acted of old, so he acts now; “The ancient ways of acting are his” (Pro_31:27). “He reneweth his progresses of old time” (Delitzsch). The eternal, unchangeable purpose and operation of God are contrasted with the disruption of “the everlasting hills.” The Greek and Latin Versions connect the words with what precedes. Septuagint, Ἐτάκησαν βουνοὶ αἰώνιοι πορείας αἰωνίας, “The everlasting hills melted at his everlasting goings;” Vulgate, Incurvati sunt colles mundi ab itineribus aeternitatis ejus, where the idea seems to be that the high places of the earth are God’s paths when he visits the world.
The sun and moon stood still in their habitation; or, stand still, or withdraw into their habitation. They hide themselves in the tabernacles whence they are said to emerge when they shine (Psa_19:4, etc.). Overpowered with the splendour of God’s presence, the heavenly luminaries hide their light in this day of the Lord (comp. Isa_13:10; Joe_2:2, Joe_2:10, Joe_2:31; Joe_3:15; Amo_5:20; Mat_24:29). The miracle of Joshua (Jos_10:12, etc.) may have suggested some of the language here, but the idea is quite different. At the light of thine arrows they went; i.e. the sun and moon fled away discomfited at the glory of God’s weapons, his arrows gleaming with light. The idea may be that, in the absence of the sun and moon, the terrific scene was illuminated only by flashes of lightning. “Lightnings” are sometimes celled God’s “arrows,” as in Psa_18:14; Psa_77:17, etc.; but the image here is rather of the arms of a warrior. Many supply the relative in the sentence, and render, “arrows which shoot along.” This seems to be unnecessary, and is not supported by the versions. There is no special reference to the hailstorm at Beth-horon, which discomfited the Cananites, but enabled the Israelites to pass on to victory (Joshua, loc. cit.). It is the terror of the judgment that is adumbrated, when the Lord shall come in flames of fire (2Th_1:8), and the heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat (2Pe_3:12).
Thou didst march] In indignation thou marchest through the earth; thou dost thresh the nations In anger. As in former times “threshing” was performed by treading (Deu_25:4), the sense is: thou treadest down; 2Ki_13:7; Job_39:15, comp. the figures Isa_63:1-6. The term “march” means to take great steps, to stride.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
with thine anointed — with Messiah; of whom Moses, Joshua, and David, God’s anointed leaders of Israel, were the types (Psa_89:19, Psa_89:20, Psa_89:38). God from the beginning delivered His people in person, or by the hand of a Mediator (Isa_63:11). Thus Habakkuk confirms believers in the hope of their deliverance, as well because God is always the same, as also because the same anointed Mediator is ready now to fulfil God’s will and interpose for Israel, as of old [Calvin]. Maurer translates to suit the parallelism, “for salvation to Thine anointed,” namely, Israel’s king in the abstract, answering to the “people” in the former clause (compare Psa_28:8; Lam_4:20). Or Israel is meant, the anointed, that is, consecrated people of Jehovah (Psa_105:15).
woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked — probably an allusion to Psa_68:21. Each head person sprung from and belonging to the house of Israel’s wicked foes; such as Jabin, whose city Hazor was “the head of all the kingdoms” of Canaan (Jos_11:10; compare Jdg_4:2, Jdg_4:3, Jdg_4:13).
discovering the foundation — Thou destroyedst high and low. As “the head of the house” means the prince, so the “foundation” means the general host of the enemy.
unto the neck — image from a flood reaching to the neck (Isa_8:8; Isa_30:28). So God, by His wrath overflowing on the foe, caused their princes’ necks to be trodden under foot by Israel’s leaders (Jos_10:24; Jos_11:8, Jos_11:12).
When I heard. “When” is better omitted. “I heard” the report of thee (vex. 2). The LXX. refers to Hab_2:1, rendering, “I watched.” If the former part is the paean of the congregation, the present is the prophet’s own utterance expressive of his dismay at the prospect before him. My belly trembled. My inmost part, my inward self, trembled with fear (comp. Isa_16:11). My lips quivered at the voice. My lips quivered with fear at the voice of God that sounded in me (Hab_2:1), proclaiming these awful judgments. The word rendered” quivered” (tsalal) is applied to the tingling of the ears (1Sa_3:11; 2Ki_21:12), and implies that the prophet’s lips so trembled that he was scarcely able to utter speech. The LXX. renders, “from the voice of the prayers of my lips.” Rottenness entered into my bones. This is an hyperbolical expression, denoting that the firmest, strongest parts of his body were relaxed and weakened with utter fear, as if his very bones were cankered and corrupted, and there was no marrow in them. And I trembled in myself. The last word (tachtai) is rendered variously: “under me,” according to the Greek and Latin Versions, i.e. in my knees and feet, so that I reeled and stumbled; or, “in my place,” on the spot where I stand (as Exo_16:29). That I might rest in the day of trouble; better, I who shall rest in the day of tribulation. The prophet suddenly expresses his confidence that he shall have rest in this affliction; amid this terror and awe he is sure that there remaineth a rest for the people of God. This sentiment leads naturally to the beautiful expression of hope in the concluding paragraph (Hab_2:17, etc.). Keil and others render, “tremble that I am to wait quietly for the day of tribulation;” that I am to sit still and await the day of affliction. But Pusey denies that the verb (nuach) ever means “to wait patiently for,” or “to be silent about;” its uniform signification is “to rest” from labour or from trouble. Thus the Septuagint, Ἀναπαύσομαι ἐν ἡμέρα θλίψεως, “I will rest in the day of affliction;” Vulgate, Ut requiescam in die tribulationis. When he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops. This should be, When he that invades with bands comes up against the people; i.e. in the day when the Chaldeans attack the Israelites. Septuagint, Τοῦ ἀναβῆναι εἰς λαὸν παροικίας μου: “To go up against the people of my sojourning;” Vulgate, Ut ascendam ad populum aecinctum nostrum, which is thus explained: “I will bear all things patiently, even death itself, that I may attain to the happy company of those blessed heroes who fought for their country and their God.” It is obvious to remark that this is a gloss, not on the original text, but on the erroneous version.
It is not easy to say whether Hab_3:17 contains a series of suppositions referring to what may happen in the future, or describes a condition of things actually existing. The latter way of reading the verse is the more natural. The verse does not suggest a condition of scarcity and barrenness arising from a hostile invasion of the land, but rather one due to the incidence of severe natural calamities. The word for, with which the verse begins, connects very loosely with the preceding Hab_3:16. The mood of the speaker also in Hab_3:18-19 is confident and jubilant, in strong contrast to the gloom and terror of Hab_3:16. It is possible that the poem originally ended with Hab_3:16, and that Hab_3:17-19 are an addition. The difference of tone in Hab_3:16 and Hab_3:17-19 is not decisive, for in such poems the author’s mind not unusually passes from gloomy anticipations to confidence.
The verse may read:
For though the figtree doth not blossom,
And there is no fruit in the vines;
The produce of the olive faileth,
And the fields yield no meat;
The flock is cut off from the fold,
And there is no herd in the stalls.
It is the community that speaks in Hab_3:17-19, as is evident from Hab_3:18-19.
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord] Comp. Psa_5:11; Psa_32:11; Psa_33:1; Isa_61:10. In spite of calamities the people will joy in God; though earthly blessings perish He remains their portion. The joy is partly a present one in the possession of God, as Psa_73:23, “Nevertheless I am continually with thee”; and partly one of hope in His salvation; Psa_18:46; Mic_7:7; Isa_17:12 ff.
He confirms the same truth,—that he sought no strength but in God alone. But there is an implied contrast between God and those supports on which men usually lean. There is indeed no one, who is not of a cheerful mind, when he possesses all necessary things, when no danger, no fear is impending: we are then courageous when all things smile on us. But the Prophet, by calling God his strength, sets him in opposition to all other supports; for he wishes to encourage the faithful to persevere in their hope, however grievously God might afflict them. His meaning then is,—that even when evils impetuously rage against us, when we vacillate and are ready to fall every moment, God ought then to be our strength; for the aid which he has promised for our support is all-sufficient. We hence see that the Prophet entertained firm hope, and by his example animated the faithful, provided they had God propitious, however might all other things fail them.
He will make, he says, my feet like those of hinds. I am inclined to refer this to their return to their own country, though some give this explanation,—”God will give the swiftest feet to his servants, so that they may pass over all obstacles to destroy their enemies;” but as they might think in their exile that their return was closed up against them, the Prophet introduces this most apt similitude, that God would give his people feet like those of hinds, so that they could climb the precipices of mountains, and dread no difficulties: He will then, he says, give me the feet of hinds, and make me to tread on my high places. Some think that this was said with regard to Judea, which is, as it is well known, mountainous; but I take the expression more simply in this way,—that God would make his faithful people to advance boldly and without fear along high places: for they who fear hide themselves and dare not to raise up the head, nor proceed openly along public roads; but the Prophet says, God will make me to tread on any high places
He at last adds, To the leader on my beatings. The first word some are wont to render conqueror. This inscription, To the leader, למנצח, lamenatsech, frequently occurs in the Psalms. To the conqueror, is the version of some; but it means, I have no doubt, the leader of the singers. Interpreters think that God is signified here by this title, for he presides over all the songs of the godly: and it may not inaptly be applied to him as the leader of the singers, as though the Prophet had said,—”God will be a strength to me; though I am weak in myself, I shall yet be strong in him; and he will enable me to surmount all obstacles, and I shall proceed boldly, who am now like one half-dead; and he will thus become the occasion of my song, and be the leader of the singers engaged in celebrating his praises, when he shall deliver from death his people in so wonderful a manner.” We hence see that the connection is not unsuitable, when he says, that there would be strength for him in God; and particularly as giving of thanks belonged to the leader or the chief singer, in order that God’s aid might be celebrated, not only privately but at the accustomed sacrifices, as was usually the case under the law. Those who explain it as denoting the beginning of a song, are extremely frigid and jejune in what they advance; I shall therefore pass it by.
He adds, on my beatings. This word, נגינות, neginoth, I have already explained in my work on the Psalms. Some think that it signifies a melody, others render it beatings (pulsationes) or notes (modos;) and others consider that musical instruments are meant. I affirm nothing in a doubtful matter: and it is enough to bear in mind what we have said,—that the Prophet promises here to God a continual thanksgiving, when the faithful were redeemed, for not only each one would acknowledge that they had been saved by God’s hand, but all would assemble together in the Temple, and there testify their gratitude, and not only with their voices confess God as their Deliverer, but also with instruments of music, as we know it to have been the usual custom under the Law.