Posts Tagged ‘God as warrior’

Today we are in chapter 3 of Habakkuk. This is a very interesting chapter and I hope that you will find that to be true.

By way of review we have already seen how Habakkuk complained that God wasn’t dealing with Judah’s sin. God’s answer was that he would raise up Babylon to judge Judah. Then Habakkuk complained that Babylon was a worse sinner than Judah, and that they should be judged as well. And God’s answer was that Babylon would indeed be judged in accordance with their sins. But that the righteous must wait for this salvation in faith.

Today we look at –

Habakkuk’s prayer

As we will see, this is a prayer for God to act to bring about his promise to judge Babylon and save his people.

“1A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.” Habakkuk 3 is a prayer in the form of a song, or Psalm.

  • The word here in v. 1, “Shigionoth,” may indicate a musical style (Similarly, Psalm 7:1).
  • It uses the word “Selah” several times, as in the Psalms. (Although its meaning is not known it seems to be musical).
  • And in v. 19 it ends with the phrase, “For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.”

He prays, “2Lord, 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.” We will come back to this prayer at the end, but for now I would just note how this sets up the main part of our text today, vs. 3-15.

Habakkuk has heard what God has done in the past; he is in awe of God’s deeds. And as he thinks of the current situation with Babylon invading Judah (v. 16), he has a visionary experience (v.7) where he sees God defeating another superpower that opposed his people – Egypt at the Red Sea. This is the context then, for when he prays here. God, do what you did to Egypt again in our day – in reference to Babylon.

vs. 3-15 are poetry, with many evocative images. I will try to briefly give you the outlines of what is happening. You may want to reference the handout. It has two main sections. The first describes –

God’s march to war

“3God came from Teman,  the Holy One from Mount Paran.” These are the regions of Edom and south of this. Geographically speaking, God is coming from the East toward Egypt.

“His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. 4His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.” Here we have a description of a brilliant sunrise and rays of light filling the heavens and the earth.

But then the mood changes. “5Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. 6He 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.” All is not well plague and pestilence are coming. Judgment is coming

Now also, storm imagery comes to the fore, which carries through the rest of the poem. Here it is in the form of thunder that shakes even those things that seem permanent and immoveable – the mountains and hills. A great storm is brewing and continuing West toward the Red Sea.

“7I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.” This speaks of the effect of God’s march to war on those he passes by Midian and Cushan, on his way to the Red Sea. They are in distress and anguish. [Or if one holds that the Red Seal crossing took place through the Gulf of Aqaba, just West of Midian, then this would narrate the arrival of God at the Red Sea.]

These verses refer back to Exodus 14:24. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea at night. The Egyptians entered the Red Sea in the morning to pursue them. It was in “the morning watch,” as the sun rose, that the Lord came to fight against Egypt.

The next section of the poem describes –

God’s victory in battle

“8Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?” The prophet asks why God executed judgment on the deep waters – the rivers and the sea. The answer will come in vs. 12-15.

As we have seen before the waters and the sea represent evil and chaos. Specifically, the word “sea” is Yamm, which is the name of an evil sea serpent. Well, these forces of evil and chaos were incarnated in Egypt’s armies, as they sought to come through the Red Sea to destroy Israel. And God is pictured riding on the clouds as his chariot, or in this case, a great storm.

Next we have the battle scene. “9You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers” God begins the fight. The arrows are his lightning bolts. The rain splits the earth with rivers. “10the mountains saw you and writhed.” They wanted nothing to do with God’s great power and this fight.

“Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high.” Here God overpowers and defeats the deep. This may be a reference to the waters being forced to cover over the Egyptian armies to destroy them.

“11Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear.” Like the mountains they wanted nothing to do with God’s fight with the deep; they stood still to avoid God’s arrows as they passed by into the deep; into the body of Yamm.

Next, we have the answer as to why God came to fight. “12In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. 13You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.” He came to save his people from the Egyptian armies.

And then we have a number of statements that elaborate further on God’s victory over Yamm. “You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from tail to neck.” Some translations say here, the Hebrew is uncertain. But this is talking about a sea monster, who has a tail. (Similarly, Psalm 74:13-14 says, “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons of the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.”)  Yamm is the leader of the Egyptian armies, the house of the wicked. He is pictured here as being knocked senseless and exposed.

  “14With his own spear you pierced his head – when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding.” Here it is clear that the Egyptian armies are the warriors of Yamm. In them Yamm came to “devour” the Israelites. But God used the deep waters – “his own spear” – to destroy its own army. He made the waters cover over and destroy the Egyptians. “15You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.” Again, God is on a chariot with horses trampling Yamm. This is also a possible reference to the walls of water coming down to destroy the Egyptian armies.

So all of this poetically describes what happened in Exodus 14. Israel came through the Red Sea on dry ground at night. But in the morning, when Egypt entered the Red Sea to pursue and destroy Israel, a great storm arose. Exodus 14:24 says, “the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army . . ..” And three things happened.

1) God “threw them into a panic” – vs. 24, 25. The lightening, thunder and wind caused the Egyptians to fear as they were in the midst of the sea.

2) God “clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty” – v. 25. The great storm caused the chariot wheels to become bogged down in the mud so that they were unable to maneuver. (Also Psalm 77:16-20). Even though they were agraid they couldn’t get out.

3) God brought the waters down upon them, destroying them – vs. 26-28.

Habakkuk’s response

– to this vision is fear; fear at God’s mighty power. “16I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.”

Then he says, “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” After being reassured through this vision of God’s power to judge a superpower, Egypt, he knows that the judgment God has spoken of in chapter 2 will indeed come and Judah will be saved.

Praying for God to act

This is what the prayer in v. 2 is all about. “2Lord, 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.”

God, you did great and awesome things when you saved your people from Egypt. So he prays regarding such deeds, “repeat them in our day, in our time make them known.” Act now, just like you did then.

Even though you are judging Judah for their sins, “in wrath remember mercy.” Don’t let us perish under the Babylonians. Save us. This is his prayer and he waits calmly for it to come to pass.

I have always liked this passage. For a number of years I had it hanging in my office. I believe it speaks to our own situation. The people of God were unfaithful then, and the church is now. The people of God were overcome by their enemies then, and we are so often defeated by the evil one.

The church in America is weak, divided and ineffective. We are biblically illiterate and often don’t even know what Jesus teaches us, much less do we put it into practice. We have read how God worked by the power of his Spirit in the New Testament church, and how they did God’s will with courage and boldness. How lives were transformed and God’s kingdom was manifested.

We have heard of God’s fame in this, and we should be in awe of what he did. And so we should pray. Repeat this in our day. In our time make your deeds known. Act today like you did in the days of the apostles. Even though we have been unfaithful, “in wrath remember mercy.”

I invite you to make this your prayer as we end today – “2Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make your deeds known, in wrath remember mercy.”

William Higgins

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