Habakkuk 3


The prophet, being apprised of the calamities which were to be

brought on his country by the ministry of the Chaldeans, and

the punishments which awaited the Chaldeans themselves, partly

struck with terror, and partly revived with hope and confidence

in the Divine mercy, beseeches God to hasten the redemption of

his people, 1, 2.

Such a petition would naturally lead his thoughts to the

astonishing deliverance which God vouchsafed to the same people

of old; and the inference from it was obvious, that he could

with the same ease deliver their posterity now. But, hurried

on by the fire and impetuosity of his spirit, he disdains to

wait the process of connecting these ideas, and bounds at once

into the midst of his subject: "God came from Teman," &c., 3.

He goes on to describe the majesty and might which God

displayed in conducting his people to the land of promise,

selecting the most remarkable circumstances, and clothing them

in the most lofty language. As he goes along, his fancy becomes

more glowing, till at length he is transported to the scene of

action, and becomes an eyewitness of the wonders he describes.

"I beheld the tents of Cushan in affliction," 4-6.

After having touched on the principal circumstances of that

deliverance which he celebrates, he returns to what passed

before them in Egypt; his enthusiasm having led him to begin

in the midst of his subject, 7-15.

And at last he ends the hymn as he began it, with expressing

his awe of the Divine judgments, and his firm trust in the

mercy and goodness of God while under them; and that in terms

of such singular beauty, elegance, and sublimity, as to form a

to proper conclusion to this admirable piece of Divinely

inspired composition, 16-19.

It would seem from the title, and the note appended at the

end, that it was set to music, and sung in the service of the



Verse 1. A prayer of Habakkuk-upon Shigionoth.] See the note on

the title of Ps 7:1, where the meaning of

Shiggaion is given. The Vulgate has, pro ignorantiis, for

ignorances, or sins committed in ignorance; and so it is

understood by the Chaldee. The Syriac has nothing but merely, A

prayer of Habakkuk. And the Septuagint, instead of Shigionoth,

have μεταωδης, with a hymn, which is copied by the Arabic.

I suspect that the title here given is of a posterior date to

the prophecy. It appears to interrupt the connection between this

and the termination of the preceding verse. See them together:-

Hab 2:20: "But the Lord is in his holy temple:

Be silent before him, all the earth.

Hab 3:2: O Lord, I have heard thy speech:

I have feared, O Lord, thy work.

As the years approach thou hast shown;

As the years approach thou makest known.

In wrath thou rememberest mercy."

The prophet may here refer to the speech which God had

communicated to him, Hab 1:1-11; 2:4-20, and the terror with

which he was struck, because of the judgments denounced against

Jerusalem. I have followed the version of Apb. Newcome in this

first verse. The critical reader may consult his notes, and the

various readings of Kennicott and De Rossi.

Verse 2. In the midst of the years] bekereb shanim,

"As the years approach." The nearer the time, the clearer and

fuller is the prediction; and the signs of the times show that the

complete fulfilment is at hand. But as the judgments will be

heavy, (and they are not greater than we deserve,) yet, Lord, in

the midst of wrath-infliction of punishment-remember mercy, and

spare the souls that return unto thee with humiliation and prayer.

Verse 3. God came from Teman] Bp. Lowth observes: "This is a

sudden burst of poetry, in the true spirit of the ode; the

concealed connection being that God, who had formerly displayed

such power in delivering the Israelites from Egyptian slavery,

might succour their posterity in a like wonderful manner." Hence

the prophet selects the most striking facts of that first

deliverance; and to decorate and render them impressive, brings

forth all the powers of his genius, in all the strength and

elegance of his language. "What crowns the sublimity of this

piece," says Bp. Lowth, "is the singular elegance of the close;

and were it not that antiquity has here and there thrown its veil

of obscurity over it, there could not be conceived a more perfect

and masterly poem of its kind." See, for more particulars, his

twenty-eighth Prelection.

I shall endeavour to show the facts in the deliverance from

Egypt, to which the prophet refers.

Teman] This was a city, the capital of a province of Idumea, to

the south of the land of Canaan. Nu 20:21; Jer 49:7.

Paran] Was a city which gave its name to a province in Arabia

Petrea. Ge 21:21; De 33:2.

Selah] This word is not well known; probably it means a pause or

alteration in the music. See it in the Psalms, and its explanation


His glory covered the heavens] His glory when he descended on

Mount Sinai, and in the pillar of fire by night.

The earth was full of his praise.] All the land was astonished

at the magnificence of his works in behalf of his people. Instead

of praise, some translate splendour. The whole land was

illuminated by his glory.

Verse 4. He had horns coming out of his hand] karnayim,

rays. His hand-his power-was manifested in a particular place, by

the sudden issuing out of pencils of rays, which diverged in

coruscations of light, so as to illuminate the whole hemisphere.

Yet "there was the hiding of his power." His Majesty could not be

seen, nor any kind of image, because of the insufferable

splendour. This may either refer to the lightnings on Mount Sinai;

or to the brightness which occasionally proceeded from the

shechinah or glory of God between the cherubim, over the

mercy-seat. See Capellus and Newcome. If lightnings are

intended, the dense cloud from which they proceeded may be meant

by the "hiding of his power;" for when the lightnings burst forth,

his power and energy became manifest.

Probably from this the Jupiter Keraunos or Jupiter Brontes of

the heathens was borrowed; who is always represented with forked

or zigzag lightnings in his hand.

Verse 5. Before him went the pestilence] This plague was several

times inflicted on the disobedient Israelites in the wilderness;

see Nu 11:33; 14:37; 16:46; and was always the proof that the

just God was then manifesting his power among them.

Burning coals event forth at his feet.] Newcome translates, "And

flashes of fire went forth after him." The disobedient Israelities

were consumed by a fire that went out from Jehovah; see Le 10:2;

Nu 11:1; 16:35. And the burnt-offering was consumed by a fire

which came out from before Jehovah, Le 11:24.

Verse 6. He stood, and measured the earth] erets, the land;

he divided the promised land among the twelve tribes. This is the

allusion; and this the prophet had in his eye. God not only made a

general assignment of the land to the Hebrews; but he even divided

it into such portions as the different families required. Here

were both power and condescension. When a conqueror had subdued a

country, he divided it among his soldiers. Among the Romans, those

among whom the conquered lands were divided were termed

beneficiary; and the lands beneficia, as being held on the

beneficence of the sovereign.

He beheld, and drove asunder the nations] The nations of Canaan,

the Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites, &c., and all who opposed his

people. Even his look dispersed them.

The everlasting mountains were scattered] Or, broken asunder.

This may refer to the convulsions on Mount Sinai; and to the earth

quake which announced the descent of the Most High. See Ex 19:18.

"God occupied the summit of the eternal Mount Sinai; and led his

people over the eternal mountains of Arabia Petraea; and this

sense is preferable to the figurative one, that his ways or doings

are predetermined front everlasting."-Newcome.

The epithets ad, and olam, eternal, and

everlasting, are applied to mountains and immense rocks, because

no other parts of nature are less subject to decay or change, than

these immense masses of earth and stone, and that almost

indestructible stone, granite, out of which Sinai appears to be

formed. A piece of the beautiful granite of this mountain now lies

before me. This is a figurative description of the passage of the

Israelites through the deserts of Arabia, over mountains, rocks,

and through the trackless wilderness; over and through which God,

by his power and providence, gave them a safe passage.

The following beautiful piece from the Fragments of AEschylus

will illustrate the preceding description, and please the learned














Confound not God with man; nor madly deem

His form is mortal, and of flesh like thine.

Thou know'st him not. Sometimes like fire he glows

In wrath severe; sometimes as water flows;

In brooding darkness now his power conceals

And then in brutes that mighty power reveals.

In clouds tempestuous we the Godhead find;

He mounts the storm, and rides the winged wind;

In vivid lightnings flashes from on high;

In rattling thunders rends the lowering sky;

Fountains and rivers, seas and floods obey,

And ocean's deep abyss yields to his sway;

The mountains tremble, and the hills sink down,

Crumbled to dust by the Almighty's frown.

When God unfolds the terrors of his eye,

All things with horror quake, and in confusion lie.


Verse 7. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction] Cush is Arabia.

The Arabians dwelt in tents, hence they were called Scenitae. When

the Lord appeared on Mount Sinai, the Arabs of the Red Sea

abandoned their tents, being terror-struck; and the Midianites

also were seized with fear. See the desolation wrought among this

people by Phinehas, Nu 31:1, &c., on account of their having

enticed the Israelites to idolatry, Nu 25:1, &c. Either

Cush and Midian lay contiguous to each other; or, these names

are poetically used to express the same place.

Verse 8. Was the Lord displeased against the rivers?] Floods;

here is a reference to the passage of the Red Sea. The Lord is

represented as heading his troops, riding in his chariot, and

commanding the sea to divide, that a free passage might be left

for his army to pass over.

Verse 9. Thy bow was made quite naked] That is, it was drawn out

of its case; as the arrows had their quiver, so the bows had

their cases. A fine oriental bow and bow-case, with quiver

and arrows, are now before me; they show with what propriety

Jehovah is represented as taking his bow out of its case, in order

to set his arrow upon the cord, to shoot at his enemies. It is not

the drawing out, or making bare the arrow, that is mentioned

here; but the taking the bow out of its case to prepare to shoot.

This verse appears to be an answer to the questions in the

preceding: "Was the Lord displeased," &c. The answer is, All this

was done "according to the oaths of the tribes;" the covenant of

God, frequently repeated and renewed, which he made with the

tribes, to give them the land of the Canaanites for their


Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.] Or, "Thou didst cleave

the streams of the land." Or, "Thou cleavedst the dry land into

rivers." This may be a reference to the passage of Jordan, and

transactions at Arnon and the brook Jabbok. See Nu 21:13-15.

In this verse we have Selah again, which, as before, may signify

a pause, or some alteration in the music.

Verse 10. The mountains saw thee] This is the continued answer

to the questions in Hab 3:8. These are figures highly poetic, to

show with what ease God accomplished the most arduous tasks in

behalf of his people. As soon as the mountains saw him, they

trembled, they were in pangs. When he appeared, the sea fled to

right and left, to give him a passage. "It uttered its voice." The

separation of the waters occasioned a terrible noise. "And it

lifted up its hands on high." Its waters, being separated, stood

in heaps on the right hand and left. These heaps or waves are

poetically represented here as the hands of the sea.

Verse 11. The sun and moon stood still] This was at the prayer

of Joshua, when he fought against the Amorites. See

Jos 10:11, 12, and the notes there.

At the light of thine arrows they went] I think we should


By their light, thine arrows went abroad;

By their brightness, the lightning of thy spear.

Calvin very justly remarks that the arrows and spears of the

Israelites are called those of God, under whose auspices the

people fought: the meaning is, that by the continuation of the

light of the sun and moon, then stayed in their course, the

Israelites saw how to continue the battle, till their enemies were

all defeated.

Verse 12. Thou didst march through the land] This refers to the

conquest of Canaan. God is represented as going at the head of his

people as general-in-chief; and leading them on from conquest to

conquest-which was the fact.

Thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.] Thou didst tread them

down, as the oxen do the sheaves on the threshing-floor.

Verse 13. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people]

Their deliverance would not have been effected but through thy


For salvation with thine anointed] That is, with Joshua, whom

God had anointed, or solemnly appointed to fill the place of

Moses, and lead the people into the promised land. If we read,

with the common text, meshichecha, "thy anointed," the

singular number, Joshua is undoubtedly meant, who was God's

instrument to put the people in possession of Canaan: but if, with

several MSS. and some copies of the Septuagint, we read

meshicheycha, "thy anointed ones," the Israelites must be

intended. They are frequently called God's anointed, or God's

saints. The sense is very far-fetched when applied to Jesus


Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked] This

alludes to the slaying of the first-born through all the land of

Egypt. These were the heads of the houses or families.

By discovering the foundation unto the neck.] The general

meaning of this clause is sufficiently plain: the government of

these lands should be utterly subverted; the very foundations of

it should be razed. But what means unto the neck, ad

tsavvar? Several critics read ad tsur, "Unto the ROCK,"

that on which the house is founded: and this very intelligible

reading is obtained by the omission of a single letter,

aleph, from the word , This conjecture has been adopted by

Newcome, though unsupported either by MS. or version. But is the

conjecture necessary? I think not: read the verse as it ought to

be read, and all will be plain. "Thou hast wounded the head even

unto the neck, in the house of the wicked, by laying bare the

foundation." The whole head, neck, and all are cut off. There was

no hope left to the Egyptians, because the first-born of every

family was cut off, so that the very foundation was laid bare, no

first-born being left to continue the heirship of families.

Verse 14. Thou didst strike through] The Hebrew will bear this

sense: "Thou hast pierced amidst their tribes the head of their

troops," referring to Pharaoh and his generals, who came like a

whirlwind to fall upon the poor Israelites, when they appeared

to be hemmed in by sea, and no place for their escape. If we

follow the common reading, it seems to intimate that the troops of

Pharaoh, in their confusion (for God shone out upon them from the

cloud) fell foul of each other; and with their staves, or weapons,

slew one another: but the head of the villages or towns, i.e.,

Pharaoh, was drowned with his army in the Red Sea.

Verse 15. Thou didst walk through the sea] There was no occasion

to hurry across; all was safe, for God had divided the waters: and

his terrible cloud had removed from before, and stood behind

them, so that it was between them and the Egyptians. See

Ex 14:19, 20.

Verse 16. When I heard, my belly trembled] The prophet, having

finished his account of the wonders done by Jehovah, in bringing

their fathers from Egypt into the promised land, now returns to

the desolate state of his countrymen, who are shortly to be led

into captivity, and suffer the most grievous afflictions; and

although he had a sure word of prophecy that they should be

ultimately delivered, yet the thoughts of the evils they must

previously endure filled his soul with terror and dismay; so that

he wishes to be removed from earth before this tribulation should

come, that his eyes might not behold the desolations of his


When he (Nebuchadnezzar) cometh up unto the people, (the Jews,)

he will invade them (overpower and carry them away captive) with

his troops.

Verse 17. Although the fig tree shall not blossom]

tiphrach, "shall not flourish," shall not put forth its young

figs, for the fig tree does not blossom. The young figs appear as

soon as the old ones are ripe, as I have often had occasion to


This verse most nervously paints the desolate state of the land

of Judea during the captivity. In its hemistich form, it may be

translated thus:-

For the fig tree shall not flourish,

And there shall be no fruit on the vines;

The fruit of the olive shall fail,

And the fields shall supply no food:

The flocks shall be cut off from the fold,

And no herds shall be found in the stalls:

Yet in Jehovah will I exult;

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Vulgate has:-

Yet I in the Lord will rejoice,

And will exult in Jesus my God.

The Targum countenances this version:-

veana bemeimra dayai abua, "But in the WORD

of the Lord will I rejoice," i.e., the personal, substantial Word

of Jehovah.

These two verses give the finest display of resignation and

confidence that I have ever met with. He saw that evil was at

hand, and unavoidable, he submitted to the dispensation of God,

whose Spirit enabled him to paint it in all its calamitous

circumstances. He knew that God was merciful and gracious. He

trusted to his promise, though all appearances were against its

fulfilment; for he knew that the word of Jehovah could not fail,

and therefore his confidence is unshaken.

No paraphrase can add any thing to this hymn, which is full of

inexpressible dignity and elegance, leaving even its unparalleled

piety out of the question.

Verse 19. The Lord God is my strength] This is an imitation, if

not a quotation, from Ps 18:32, 33, where see the notes.

Will make me to walk upon mine high places] This last verse is

spoken in the person of the people, who seem to anticipate their

restoration; and that they shall once more rejoice in the hills

and mountains of Judea.

To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.] This line,

which is evidently a superscription, leads me to suppose that when

the prophet had completed his short ode, he folded it up, with the

above direction to the master singer, or leader of the choir, to

be sung in the temple service. Many of the Psalms are directed in

the same way. "To the master singer;" or, "chief musician;" to be

sung, according to their nature, on different kinds of

instruments, or with particular airs or tunes.

Neginoth, which we translate stringed instruments,

means such as were struck with a plectrum, or excited by some kind

of friction or pulsation; as violins and cymbals or

tambarines are. I do not think that the line makes any part of

the prophecy, but merely the superscription or direction of the

work when it was finished. The ending will appear much more

dignified, this line being separated from it.

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