Trembling But Waiting
Habakkuk’s Prayer Of Submission
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 4 of 7

The whole of Habakkuk chapter 3 is a Psalm-like prayer in which the prophet expresses his submission to the revealed will of God.

In the previous article, we saw how this prayer gives us a wonderful picture of what it means for the just to live by his faith. The life of faith is a life of submission to God’s will, a life of earnest prayer, and a life of hopeful waiting and looking for the coming of the LORD in all His power and glory for the sake of His people.  

The next section of this prayer is found in verse 16, which we may entitle, “Trembling but waiting.”

Trembling but Waiting 
(v. 16)

Verse 16, “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.”

What we have here is really the response of the prophet to the word of the LORD. “When I heard, my belly trembled; at the voice, my lips quivered.”

This is similar to the opening words of his prayer in verse 2, where he says, “O Yahweh, I have heard thy speech, and I was afraid…”

The difference however is that in verse 2, the prophet, after hearing God’s word, is led to pray and later to give a wonderful description of the Lord’s coming; but here in verse 16, he is literally trembling and paralysed in his speech after hearing the word of the Lord.

Perhaps the reason for his two different responses is that the reality of the fearful judgment of God was drawing nearer and nearer, and it was really beginning to get a grip of Habakkuk’s heart and soul.

Previously, he understood the word of the LORD in his mind, but now, that word was really sinking into his heart and gripping his soul, and even manifesting itself in physical or bodily sensations.

Perhaps an illustration here might help, even if it be a somewhat grim and even gruesome one. Some months ago during our youth meeting, I was talking to the youths about capital punishment in Singapore. I did some reading up about it on the web.

Apparently, for some people, when the judge passes the death sentence for a capital crime that they have committed, they remain fairly calm and stoical and expressionless at the time of the pronouncement.

However, often on the day of the execution itself when the criminal is brought into the room and when he sees the gallows for the first time, his whole body becomes weak and his legs become wobbly and unsteady, and he has to be helped and supported by the prison guards to the place of execution. Suddenly, the reality of what is about to take place really hits home and his body experiences certain physio-logical sensations.

Habakkuk tells us that his belly or his inward parts trembled. He had been shaken to the very core of his being.

Next, his lips quivered, that is, they were trembling or shaking with a slight rapid movement so that rational speech was not possible. So shaken was the prophet that his lips could no longer speak properly. At best, they could mutter or mumble some unintelligible sounds.

Third, he says that rottenness or decay entered into his bones, meaning that he felt as if his bones were coming apart because they had been decayed to the marrow.

Finally, he says that he trembled in himself or in his place, that is, his own legs were trembling or quaking. So his inward parts, his lips, his bones and his legs, in short his whole body, was being affected as the full weight of the significance of his vision began to dawn on him.

Notice again what gave rise to all this dramatic physiological effects – it was the voice that Habakkuk heard. Whose voice? We have no doubt that it was the voice of the Lord.

The Psalmist in Psalm 29 describes something of the majesty of the Lord’s voice.

“The voice of the LORD is upon the waters…

The voice of the LORD is powerful;

the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars…

The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.

The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness…

And so on.

Here in Habakkuk 3:16, we see that the voice of the LORD has a profound impact on the prophet of the LORD.

But what exactly is it that the prophet heard which brought him to the point of trembling and shaking?  The last part of verse 16 gives us the answer, “in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.”

In other words, it was because of the terrible devastation that the people of God must experience prior to their deliverance that Habakkuk was left trembling all over. The “he” refers to the Babylonians. They will come and invade Judah with their fearsome troops and nothing in this universe can or will prevent the inevitable tragedy of being invaded by the Chaldean army.

But all is not lost. There is still hope; hope not in the prevention of the invasion but hope in what will happen after it is all over, and indeed hope in what will happen during the invasion itself. 

He says in verse 16, “that I might rest in the day of trouble…” The word “rest” can be translated “wait patiently” or “wait quietly.” Habakkuk is saying that He will rest and wait patiently and quietly for the day of adversity to come and go, and then for the deliverance that is sure to come afterwards.

So trembling or shaking from head to toe is not the only thing that Habakkuk is doing in this verse. He is also resting and waiting upon the LORD for He who said that the Babylonians will come is also the One who said that the Babylonians will eventually be defeated and destroyed.

But before we move on to the next section, where the prophet will describe for us the dreadful consequences of the Babylonian invasion, I’ll like us to pause for a moment to think about a single individual, alone in a garden and sweating, as it were, great drops of blood.

Throughout His life and ministry, He knew and was aware of what awaited Him at the end of the road, even the cruel death of the cross. He spoke about it to His disciples more and more as the time drew near.

However on the final night of His earthly life, He went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Matthew tells us that He took with Him His three closest disciples, and He began to be sorrowful and very heavy, and He said to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”    

And He prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Mt 26:39) And Luke tells us that He sweated great drops of blood.

Like Habakkuk, Christ was fully assured of the deliverance at the end of the ordeal. He said in Psalm 16:10-11, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

And yet, just prior to His sufferings, His soul was still exceedingly troubled and His body responded with signs of great distress and agony. Habakkuk’s experience, or the experience of any other person in history, pales in comparison to what Christ had to endure.

Let us take courage that regardless of what we may be going through now or what we may be anticipating to go through in time to come, the Lord Jesus is well able to sympathize with us and help us.

But meanwhile, let us do as Habakkuk did and especially as the Lord Jesus did, namely, to wait and rest upon the LORD.

In Psalm 40:1-2, which again are the words of Christ, we read, “I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” Amen.

Linus Chua