Exile—Habakkuk 3

Psalms not in the psalter

Habakkuk Chapter 3

Looking back just over a year ago to February 2022. The news was full of Russian troops gathering in Belarus near the border with Ukraine. Many people are afraid that the Russians will take the opportunity of the Winter Olympics, which are being held in Beijing, China to invade Ukraine like they used the same games as a cover for invading Ukraine in 2014 and annexing Crimea.

Despite Russia insisting that these were merely manoeuvres, they did invade Ukraine on 24th February 2022. The war continues, with Human Rights Watch reporting that over 3.4 million Ukrainians had been forcibly taken into Russia or occupied areas of Ukraine by 1st September 2022.

Human Rights Watch also reported in March 2023 that thousands of orphans have been taken from occupied territories in Ukraine into Russia. The taking of people into exile is not something that belongs in history books and the Bible, it still goes on now.

This is a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. It is on shigionoth. Here is what he said.

Lord, I know how famous you are.
    I have great respect for you
    because of your mighty acts.
Do them again for us.
    Make them known in our time.
When you are angry,
    please have mercy on us.

God came from Teman.
    The Holy One came from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens.
    His praise filled the earth.
His glory was like the sunrise.
    Rays of light flashed from his mighty hand.
    His power was hidden there.
He sent plagues ahead of him.
    Sickness followed behind him.
When he stood up, the earth shook.
    When he looked at the nations,
    they trembled with fear.
The age-old mountains crumbled.
    The ancient hills fell down.
    But he marches on forever.
I saw the tents of Cushan in trouble.
    The people of Midian were suffering greatly.

Lord, were you angry with the rivers?
    Were you angry with the streams?
Were you angry with the Red Sea?
    You rode your horses and chariots
    to overcome it.
You got your bow ready to use.
    You asked for many arrows.
You broke up the surface
    of the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and shook.
    Floods of water swept by.
The sea roared.
    It lifted its waves high.

11 The sun and moon stood still in the sky.
    They stopped because your flying arrows flashed by.
    Your gleaming spear shone like lightning.
12 When you were angry, you marched across the earth.
    Because of your anger you destroyed the nations.
13 You came out to set your people free.
    You saved your chosen ones.
You crushed Pharaoh, the leader of that evil land of Egypt.
    You stripped him from head to foot.
14 His soldiers rushed out to scatter us.
    They were laughing at us.
    They thought they would easily destroy us.
They saw us as weak people who were trying to hide.
    So you wounded Pharaoh’s head with his own spear.
15 Your horses charged into the Red Sea.
    They stirred up the great waters.

16 I listened and my heart pounded.
    My lips trembled at the sound.
My bones seemed to rot.
    And my legs shook.
But I will be patient.
    I’ll wait for the day of trouble to come on Babylon.
    It’s the nation that is attacking us.
17 The fig trees might not bud.
    The vines might not produce any grapes.
The olive crop might fail.
    The fields might not produce any food.
There might not be any sheep in the pens.
    There might not be any cattle in the barns.
18 But I will still be glad
    because of what the Lord has done.
    God my Savior fills me with joy.

19 The Lord and King gives me strength.
    He makes my feet like the feet of a deer.
    He helps me walk on the highest places.

This prayer is for the director of music. It should be sung while being accompanied by stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3 NIRV

The first question is, “Who was Habakkuk?” The short answer is we don’t know. The long answer is we really don’t know. The only source we have for Habakkuk, other than his book, comes from Bel and the Dragon in the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books, but this is not considered historical.

When was the book of Habakkuk written? We also don’t know. It has to be after the Babylonians became a power but could be from early in that time, with Habakkuk worried that this warlike nation could attack, right up to after the attack at the time of the exile looking back but writing as if it was a future event. In any case, the psalm that makes up Chapter 3 is prophesying the future destruction of the Babylonian empire.

What is the Book of Habakkuk? Unlike any other prophetic book, this is a dialogue between the prophet and God which does not mention the people of Judah. In the first two chapters, Habakkuk complains to God about the Babylonians and God replies. Twice.

I am going to assume that Habakkuk wrote this around the time the Babylonians had conquered the Assyrians as this seems the most reasonable placing of the book.

Habakkuk is worried. He has heard of the Babylonian advance and the defeat of Assyria. He has also heard that Babylon is far more brutal than Assyria ever was. He complained to God about that.

Now Assyria was pretty bad, they had taken the northern kingdom of Israel into exile, twice, and had brought in exiles from their other conquered lands to settle in Israel. Babylon was worse. That is the context of Chapters 1 and 2 of Habakkuk. By Chapter 3 Habakkuk seems convinced that God can use a bad country to punish another bad country, and that that country will also be judged for its crimes.

Chapter 3 is a psalm with a structure like other psalms other than what would be the introduction in the book of Psalms is split and heads and tails the song itself. The word shigionoth in the introduction is a word for praise and confidence. But the context of Habakkuk’s time is not one where you would expect happy or victorious songs, times were very rough. And that is the point.

This is a song about the confidence we can have in God in hard times. It uses the Exodus when the Israelites were brought out of Egypt to say that God is going to do this again, though the imagery is symbolic, of God trampling the sea with his horses, which looks weird to us but was the way things were written in those days as we can see from contemporary books in the Bible like Ezekiel and Daniel.

We can have confidence in God, and what God has done before he can do again. verses 17 to 19 are Habakkuk’s personal commitment to continue to trust in God even when things appear at their worst.

I finish with a prayer, which is also part of this song:

Lord, I know how famous you are.
    I have great respect for you
    because of your mighty acts.
Do them again for us.
    Make them known in our time.
When you are angry,
    please have mercy on us.


< Lamentations 5 |Habakkuk 3 |

The pictures used in this post are:
1) A Russian battle tank and the description, “ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 14: (—-EDITORIAL USE ONLY â MANDATORY CREDIT – “RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / HANDOUT” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS—-) T-72B3 Main Battle Tanks of Russian Army take part in a military drill in St. Petersburg, Russia on February 14, 2022. (Photo by RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)”
2) The flag of Ukraine overlaid with the peace symbol.

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