The Glory Of The Coming Lord
Habakkuk’s Prayer Of Submission
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 3 of 7


Chapter 3 of Habakkuk contains Habakkuk’s prayer of submission, which may be divided into 7 parts. We’ve considered the first two already, namely, Habakkuk’s Psalm-like Prayer (v. 1) and Habakkuk’s request for mercy in the midst of trouble (v. 2).

In this article, we will consider the third part where the prophet gives us a description of the coming of the LORD in glory.

Habakkuk’s Description 
of the LORD’s 
coming in glory (vv. 3-15)

Having offered up his petitions, Habakkuk now turns his eyes of faith towards the LORD’s future coming to judge and to save. He does this because he believes that the Lord will surely fulfil His Word and answer the petitions of His people.

Now this section, from verses 3-15 may be further divided into two parts. From verses 3-7, he speaks about the glory of the LORD in His coming, and then from verses 8-15, he speaks to the LORD about His coming.

This distinction is easily seen if you observe how from verses 3-7, Habakkuk refers to God in the third person whereas from verses 8-15, he addresses the Lord directly in the second person.

Let’s look at these two sections very briefly.

The prophet speaks about the glory of the Lord’s coming (vv. 3-7)

The first part of verse 3 says, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah.”

God came or God comes from Teman and from mount Paran. We note two things here. First, that God even comes at all. Why should He? After all, the people had sinned against Him grievously and repeatedly. And yet, in His mercy and grace, He comes.

And His coming is the source of hope for God’s suffering people. As Dr Robertson writes, “Through all the ages only the coming of the Lord himself can provide genuine hope for his people.”

Second, notice where God comes from. Habakkuk doesn’t say that He comes from heaven. Rather, He comes from Teman and Paran. Teman refers to Edom while Paran refers to the desert area of Sinai and Egypt.

What Habakkuk is doing is retracing, as it were, the steps of the exodus from Egypt to Canaan and remembering how God graciously guided and led His people in those days. The same covenant God has not forsaken them but will come again for their deliverance and salvation.  

The second part of verse 3 describes the extensiveness of God’s glory as He comes to save His people. We read, “His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.” The words “heavens” and “earth” basically includes everything, so that God’s sovereignty extends to all things, and no nation or power is outside His control. When He comes for His people, He comes as the God of heaven and earth. 

Verse 4 goes on to describe the intensiveness of God’s glory. It says, “And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.” Not only is God’s glory extensive, filling the whole universe, but it is also very intensive. God comes in the purest and brightest and most brilliant of lights.

1 Timothy 6:16 tells us that God dwells in light which no man can approach unto. And yet this glorious God approaches man, and as He approaches, we see horns or rays coming out of his hand, indicating that the source of light and power is in His hand.

The last phrase, “and there was the hiding of his power” means that those brilliant rays of light emitting from His hand is but the hiding of His power. The point of verse 4 is that the Almighty God possesses unlimited power and glory. When God reveals Himself to us, His glory and power must always be hidden and veiled or else we shall be utterly consumed in a moment.

So verse 3 speaks of the extensiveness of God’s glory while verse 4 speaks of its intensiveness or intensity. 

Next in verses 5-7, we have a description of the effects of God’s glory as He comes in judgment and salvation.

Verse 5 says, “Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.” Even before the Lord arrives, things happen. We are told that the land is affected by a pestilence and plague. The words “burning coals” refer to a fever or disease caused by a plague.

Pestilences and plagues are among the dreadful instruments of judgment that God sends upon a land to destroy His enemies. And remember that they are but forerunners of the Lord, and already, they leave a trail of destruction behind it. The closer the Lord approaches, the more fearful the effects.

Verse 6 says, “He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.”

The Almighty has now arrived. He stands as a huge giant and measures the little earth beneath. This measuring of the earth marks His ownership of and sovereignty over it. He beholds and the nations are driven asunder, meaning that the mere glance of God causes the mighty nations to flee from Him in fear.

Then beyond the nations, we read that even the everlasting mountains are scattered and the perpetual hills bow down. Mountains and hills are seen in scripture as being symbols of age-old permanence and stability, having been in existence since the beginning of the world. But here in verse 6, even the massive and seemingly unshakable mountains and hills are shattered and flattened before the majesty of God. Only the Lord and His ways are everlasting and permanent. 

Finally in verse 7, we read, “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.”

Most probably, Habakkuk was thinking about two of the early enemies and oppressors of Israel, not long after they had settled in the land of Canaan. We read of Cushan-Rishathaim the king of Mesopotamia in Judges 3. He was the first to oppress the Israelites in the book of Judges. Then three chapters later in Judges 6, we read of the Midianites, who prevailed against and oppressed Israel.

Here in Habakkuk, the prophet compares the Babylonians, who would soon oppress Israel, to these two ancient oppressors of God’s people, who were both utterly defeated by the LORD. The same fate awaits the Babylonians. No matter how terrifying they may be and what awful terrors they may inflict, God’s people will survive whereas they would be destroyed.  

Next, from verses 8-15, the prophet speaks to the Lord directly about His coming.

The prophet speaks to the LORD about His coming (vv. 8-15)

Verse 8 reads, “Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?” The prophet asks the LORD the reason for His great displeasure and anger against the rivers and the sea. Is the LORD somehow angry with His creation that He smites the rivers and the seas? Or is there another reason?

The answer to these questions will come later on. But meanwhile notice how God’s wrath against the rivers and sea, and God’s salvation are spoken of in the same breath. Here we are reminded that God’s salvation often comes through His wrath and judgment, and that even in the midst of all the terrible events of His judgment, God is advancing His purposes of redemption.

The LORD rides on His horses and His chariots of salvation. What a wonderful description! No nation, regardless of how many horses and chariots they have, shall be able to stand against the LORD when He comes to bring salvation to His own. 

Verse 9a says, “Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah.” Habakkuk speaks to the LORD about His readiness for war and His determination to carry out the oath which He has taken against the tribes of His enemies.

Then in verses 9b-11 the prophet goes on to speak to the LORD about His weapons of war and their effects on nature, “Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers. The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear.”

It is clear that this man of war that Habakkuk was speaking about and speaking to was no ordinary human being. No ordinary man can cleave the earth with a river and cause the mountains to flee by a tempest of waters. The picture here is that even the mountains seek to escape the great flood that this man of war is bringing about. But that is not all. Verse 11 speaks about His power to cause the sun and moon to freeze one moment and then to flee away in terror the next.

Verses 12-13 give us the answer to the earlier question about the reason for God’s wrath. “Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.”

The LORD’s anger and wrath arises in response to the wickedness of the nations and the heathen. And so He marches through the land in indignation to bring judgment against evil.

But judgment against evil is only one side of the story. Verse 13 gives us the positive side of the LORD’s activities. We are told that He goes forth for the salvation of His people, even for salvation with His anointed. God’s salvation is “for” His people, but it is accomplished “with” His anointed or Messiah.

But who is this anointed or Messiah? In Isaiah 45:1, Cyrus, the king of the Persians, is described as the Lord’s anointed or the Messiah. God would use Cyrus to conquer the Babylonians and to release His people from captivity. So Habakkuk could be thinking about Cyrus when he writes about the Messiah here.

But at the same time, we must not lose sight of the ultimate or final Messiah, even the Lord Jesus Christ. If you read the book of Isaiah, particularly from chapter 42 and onwards, you’ll see that besides Cyrus the servant deliverer, there is mention of another deliverer, even Christ, the suffering servant. 

What Cyrus accomplishes for God’s people in a limited political-geographical sense, the Lord Jesus accomplishes for His people in the fullest redemptive sense. Christ is the great Messiah and God accomplishes salvation for His people through Him.

The second part of verse 13 is reminiscent of Genesis 3:15, which speaks of the seed of the woman crushing the head of the serpent. Here in Habakkuk, we read of the anointed wounding or crushing the head of the house of the wicked and laying bare the foundation up to the neck. To lay bare from foundation to neck speaks of complete destruction or as Calvin says, “The Lord had destroyed them all from bottom to the top.” 

Verse 14, “Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.”

The wicked ones come out as a whirlwind to scatter or destroy God’s people. They rejoice or gloat over them as one who devours the poor in secret. But the Lord stops them in their tracks by causing them to self-destruct. The phrase “thou didst strike through with his staves” means that they destroy themselves with their own weapons.

Sometimes, God’s people are very distressed because of the might and power of their enemies. But our sovereign God has the power to turn the strength of the enemies against themselves so that the stronger the enemy, the more sure is his own self-destruction!

 

Finally, verse 15 says, “Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.” This verse returns to the theme of God’s power over nature and is reminiscent of His deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea. 

Applications

As we conclude these first three parts of Habakkuk’s prayer of submission from verses 1-15 of chapter 3, I’ll like us to see how this passage is really the outworking of an earlier verse in Habakkuk, namely, chapter 2 verse 4b, which says, “but the just shall live by his faith,” that is the righteous person continues to live by faith. 

What does it mean for a believer to live by his faith? What does it mean that the Christian life is to be a life of faith? This passage teaches us at least three things about the life of faith.

First, it is a life of submission to the will of the LORD. Habakkuk had no more complaints or arguments or objections or questions to bring to the Lord by the end of chapter 2. Instead, he humbly submits to God’s will and even leads the rest of God’s people to praise God and to sing of His just and merciful ways.

Second, the life of faith is a life of fearing God and of prayer. We see this in verse 2. Habakkuk heard the word of the LORD and he stood in awe and reverence of Him and of what He was going to do.

This led Habakkuk to pray for himself and for his people. Specifically, he asked the Lord for three things – for preservation of their lives, for understanding and acceptance of His ways, and for mercy in the midst of the years of great trouble and turmoil which was sure to come.

Third, the life of faith is a life of hopeful waiting and looking for the coming of the Lord in all His glory and power, both to judge the wicked and bring salvation to His people.

So a life of submission, a life of prayer, and a life of hope in the Lord, even in the midst of trouble. Is that the kind of life that you are living at the moment?

The Lord Jesus, the anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ came so that we might have life and that we might live just such a life of faith. Let us constantly look to Christ to preserve us in the midst of the years and to enable us to live by a steadfast trust and faith in Him. Amen.

Linus Chua