A Psalm-Like Prayer
Habakkuk’s Prayer Of Submission

Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 1 of 7

We’ve finally arrived at the fifth and final major section of this minor prophet. Let me remind us again of what the other sections of Habakkuk are about.   

The first section, found in the first 4 verses of chapter 1, contains Habakkuk’s opening lament or complaint to the LORD about the wickedness and violence in the land of Judah that went unpunished. Habakkuk asked the LORD how much longer must this intolerable situation persists before He does something to correct it.

The second section, from verses 5-11 of chapter 1, is the LORD’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint. The LORD informs the prophet that He was raising up the Chaldeans or Babylonians to bring judgment upon the covenant people.

The third section, from chapter 1 verse 12 to chapter 2 verse 1, begins the second cycle of dialogue between the prophet and the LORD. Here Habakkuk issues a second complaint to Him. This time, he laments that God is going to use the Babylonians to punish the Israelites. He questions the justice of God in employing a relatively more wicked nation to destroy a relatively less wicked nation.

The fourth section, from chapter 2 verse 2 till the end of that chapter, contains the LORD’s response to Habakkuk’s second complaint. He essentially tells him that the proud and wicked people will surely and utterly be destroyed in due time.

Meanwhile, the just or righteous person shall live by faith, that is, having been declared righteous by God, he continues to receive the ongoing gift of life by faith. 

This fourth section concludes with a stark contrast between the false gods of the heathen and the living and true God. In contrast to these speechless and lifeless and helpless idols, the last verse of chapter 2 says, “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

The purpose of this contrast is so that all hearing the Word of the LORD may bow in humble adoration of and reverent submission to Him, the Almighty and Sovereign God of heaven and earth.

And this is exactly what Habakkuk did. He had no more complaints or laments or questions to bring before the LORD. Instead, he responds in humble submission to Him. Habakkuk had been wonderfully changed and transformed, and chapter 3, which is the fifth and final section of the book, records his humble prayer of submission to the LORD.

We could divide this prayer into seven parts. In this article, I’ll like us to consider just the first part, which we may describe as Habakkuk’s Psalm-Like Prayer verse 1.

Habakkuk’s Psalm-Like 

Verse 1, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.”

Habakkuk himself identifies this entire section as a prayer. The word “prayer” usually refers to specific requests or supplications but it can also refer to prayer in general.

What is unique about Habakkuk’s prayer is that it bears various similarities to the Psalms, which is why I’ve called it a Psalm-like Prayer. Let me give you three of them.

First, the very word “prayer” itself appears in the heading of five of the Psalms – Psalm 17, 86, 90, 102 and 142.

For example, Psalm 86 verse 1, “A Prayer of David. Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy.” And again in Psalm 90 verse 1 says, “A Prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” And yet again in Psalm 102 verse 1, “A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.”

So a prayer of David and a prayer of Moses and a prayer of the afflicted. Here in Habakkuk 3:1, we have a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.

Now although the main task of a prophet was to bring God’s word to His people, Old Testament prophets, as covenantal mediators, at times also interceded or prayed on behalf of the people.

We see this for example in the life and ministry of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah. (Gen. 20:7, Exo. 32:11-14, Isa. 63:15, Jer. 14:7-9). 

The second similarity that this prayer of Habakkuk has with the Psalms is found in the word “shigionoth” in verse 1, which occurs only twice in the Old Testament – once here and once in the heading of Psalm 7, where we read, “Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the LORD, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” The meaning of the word is uncertain, although it could possibly refer to type of Psalm.

The third similarity is the word “Selah,” which appears three times in this prayer. We see it in verses 3, 9 and 13. Now if you’re familiar with the Psalms, you’ll know that this word Selah appears numerous times throughout the Psalter.

What is interesting is that of the 74 times that it is found in the Old Testament, 71 of them are found in the book of Psalms while the other three are found here in Habakkuk chapter 3.

In other words, outside the Psalms, this word is only found in the book of Habakkuk, which further strengthens the view that what we have here in Habakkuk chapter 3 is very similar to if not an actual Psalm itself.

Now what all this means is that Habakkuk is using the Psalms as a model or pattern for his expression of praise and prayer and submission to the LORD.

Quite clearly, his complaints found in the earlier chapters of the book had been turned to praise, and his lamentation had been turned to exaltation. He has no further case to make. He has finished complaining to God and questioning Him.

Now, all that was left was for him to worship the One who is in His Holy temple, to submit to His sovereignty and to cast himself entirely upon His free mercy.     

Habakkuk realised, in light of the certain and soon-to-come judgment at the hands of the Chaldeans, that it is only the intervening and preserving grace of the LORD that would keep His people alive.

This leads to the second part of his prayer, namely, Habakkuk’s request for mercy in the midst of trouble, which we’ll look at next time.

Linus Chua