My task for this article is to tackle Habakkuk 3. By the time one reaches chapter 3, it is glaringly apparent that this chapter is distinct from the first two. Whereas chapters 1-2 narrate Habakkuk’s initial struggle with God’s seeming indifference to Israel’s sin and the dialogue that results, chapter 3 centers on Habakkuk’s emotional response to and thoughts from the previous exchange. He responds with a poetic prayer. The prayer divides into three sections: Habakkuk’s initial response (v. 2), his vision (vv. 3-15), and his final response (vv. 16-19).
Habakkuk’s initial response can be summed up in one word: fear. Having heard God’s report, he says, “O Lord, do I fear” (Hab 3:2). Fear should instill all who learn of how God works in a fallen world. Fear was not his attitude at the beginning of his dialogue with God. He appeared accusatory, wondering why God failed to act in this fallen world. But now, having been provided perspective, he responded with fear. when God realigns our thinking to match his, we respond with awe and fear. Never would we have planned history in his way. This first section of Habakkuk steers us to take a step back and look at circumstances from God’s perspective. When we do, a proper sense of fear is sure to follow.
The bulk of the prayer, Habakkuk 3:3-15, is difficult to understand. These verses narrate a two-fold vision: a picture of God’s deliverance in verse 3-7, and Habakkuk’s impression of that picture in verses 8-15. In verses 3-7, God arrives to judge Israel’s enemies. in doing so, he provides salvation for his people. This picture is confusing, but his interpretation of it comes in verse 13. The main point focuses on God’s deliverance of his people. To do this necessitates that he judge those nations who afflict Israel. This judgment is terrifying, evident by the series of questions that Habakkuk asks in verse 8. Then in verses 9-11, Habakkuk provides creation’s response to the Lord’s judgment. It responds with terror: the mountains writhe (v. 10), the waters rage (v. 10), and the sun and moon stand still (v. 11). The creation trembles at the Lord’s judgment.
What does this section of the prayer teach us? These verses deliver the following warning: God’s judgment is fierce; tread lightly. The creation recognized this, but do you? Habakkuk’s vision of God’s judgment foreshadows John’s apocalyptic vision in Revelation. When the Lord returns to rescue his people, this rescue entails the judgment of those opposed to his people. Like Habakkuk’s vision of judgment, the future judgment is cataclysmic and terrifying, yet final. Habakkuk’s vision of God’s judgment warns us against taking his judgment lightly. It ought to instill within us a resolve to escape its coming—which can only be achieved if one is found in Christ.
The last section of the prayer is arguably the most familiar in the book (Hab 3:16-19). These four verses encapsulate the whole drama of Habakkuk. Habakkuk trembles in anticipation of God’s discipline of Israel (v. 16a). But God’s discipline then shifts to his judgment of Israel’s enemies (v. 16b). Therefore, having been made aware of God’s plan, he can rest in God’s goodness, even in the midst of difficult and troubling times (vv. 17-19). He knows that when circumstances seem beyond our ability to handle and understand, “God the Lord is [our] strength” (v. 19).
The relevancy of Habakkuk’s message in chapter 3 could not be more obvious. Some might say that the uncertainty of this past year mirrors the uncertainty that Habakkuk felt. Like Habakkuk, we need perspective in order to continue trusting the Lord in troubling times. Like Habakkuk, we need assurance that God is aware of and active in what is unfolding in the world. When he received God’s perspective, then he was able to find joy and hope in the God of his salvation. If we stay fixated on this fallen world, how can we expect to find joy and hope? We need perspective—God’s perspective. Then, and only then, can we resonate with Habakkuk’s attitude in verses 17-19: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”