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In Hab. 3:6, the prophet foresaw “the ancient hills” collapsing. Verse 7 names them:
7 I saw the tents of Cushan under distress, the tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
These two are, no doubt, representative of a longer list of collapsing nations. Cushan is derived from Cush, “black,” and Midian means “strife, contention.” Perhaps Midian may represent the Mideast, as their territory was in the northwest part of Arabia.
Cush was in two locations, originally in Arabia, next to the land of Midian. Hence, Moses’ wife was said to be a Cushite (Num. 12:1), but she was the daughter of the priest of Midian (Exodus 2:16, 21). It appears that many Cushites later crossed the Red Sea and set up a colony south of Egypt. This became known as Cush (or Ethiopia).
At any rate, the prophet links Cush with Midian.
Hab. 3:8 says,
8 Did the Lord rage against the rivers, or was Your anger against the rivers, or was Your wrath against the sea, that You rode on horses, on Your chariots of salvation?
This is a poetic way of reminding the Israelites of how God had delivered them by parting the Red Sea and later by drying up the Jordan River. The prophet sees the rivers and the sea as representing “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev. 17:16). So parting the seas pictured an act of war against the nations.
Hab. 3:9 continues,
9 Your bow was made bare [“naked, exposed”], the rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah. You cleaved the earth with rivers.
The prophet sees God baring His bow and, it seems, removing the clothing of nations as well, in order to apply “the rods of chastisement” to their bare skin. This refers to the law allowing certain sinners to be beaten (Deut. 25:2, 3).
The prophet does not explain his vision. Yet he seems to be alluding to Israel’s past history, beginning with the day God came from Teman and Mount Paran (vs. 3) to descend upon Mount Sinai on that first Pentecost in the wilderness.
If so, then the next logical step in the sequence would be the wars of Moses against the Midianites in Num. 31, just prior to crossing the Jordan River.
These names may also be prophetic of the character of ungodly nations, which would give us reasons why they are being judged. God’s judgment on the nations of the earth is pictured metaphorically as cleaving the earth with rivers.
Hab. 3:10 adds,
10 The mountains saw You and quaked; the downpour of waters swept by, the deep uttered forth its voice, it lifted high its hands.
This appears to be a reference to Mount Sinai, which “saw” God and “quaked” (Exodus 19:18), even as the Holy Spirit was being offered to the Israelites on that first day of Pentecost. This underlying theme of the coming of the Holy Spirit was prophesied after Noah’s flood when Noah sent out the dove three times (Gen. 8:8-12).
Mount Sinai was the first time that the Holy Spirit (“dove”) was sent, but the people withdrew, and the “dove” found no place to rest (Gen. 8:9; Exodus 20:19).
The second occasion occurred in Acts 2, where the Spirit (dove) was sent. This time the dove found an olive twig. But this was not the end of the story, because Noah waited another week before leaving the ark (Gen. 8:12). Likewise, the church has had to wait until the second coming of Christ to see the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This can come only through the Feast of Tabernacles.
When we leave the ark this time, we will come into a whole new world that has been cleansed by the flood of the Holy Spirit. Noah’s flood removed the breath (spirit) of life from all flesh; the flood that is to come through the Feast of Tabernacles will reinstate the breath of life in all flesh. Pentecost started this process; Tabernacles completes it.
So the prophet speaks of “the downpour of waters,” which prophesies of both judgment and blessing. The Spirit is called to insert the breath of life in us as believers, but He is also called to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
Ultimately, divine judgment will bring correction to the world, so that all things can be put under the feet of Christ (1 Cor. 15:27, 28). The glory of His Spirit will cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
Hab. 3:11, 12 says,
11 Sun and moon stood in their places; they went away at the light of Your arrows, at the radiance of Your gleaming spear. 12 In indignation You marched through the earth; in anger You trampled the nations.
This appears to be a reference to the battle in the valley of Aijalon (one of the Canaanite wars), where Joshua prayed that God would lengthen the day. Joshua 10:12-14 says,
12 Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon.” 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.
The prophet reminds the unbelieving Israelites of the miraculous time when God overthrew the Amorites. The sun and the moon “went away at the light of Your arrows.” Arrows are sons (Psalm 127:4), and lightning pictures God’s arrows—that is, the sons of God (Psalm 144:6).
Zech. 9:14 says also,
14 Then the Lord will appear over them, and His arrow will go forth like lightning…
The Lord’s “gleaming spear” (Hab. 3:11) is undoubtedly another metaphor for lightning.
Perhaps, too, there is a prophetic connection between this Aijalon incident, the signs of Christ’s coming in Matt. 25:29, and Acts 2:20,
20 The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
The purpose of Judgment is given in Hab. 3:13,
13 You went forth for the salvation of Your people, for the salvation of Your anointed. You struck the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah.
Judgment is directed at “the house of the evil” in order to save God’s people. Of course, God’s people are those who have faith in Him, not simply those who claim Israelite ancestry. In fact, the Old Covenant stipulated that Israelites had to be obedient in order to be God’s people (Exodus 19:5). They failed to be obedient, so God made a second covenant by which they would become God’s people (Deut. 29:12, 13).
In other words, Israelite ancestry did not qualify anyone to be one of God’s people. They needed a covenant to turn them into God’s people. Without faith in Christ, no one can claim to be one of God’s people.
The Hebrew word translated “salvation” is yesha, which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation.” It is the word from which Jesus’ Hebrew name is derived: Yeshua, carrying the same meaning. For this reason, in Matt. 1:21 the angel told Joseph in a dream,
21 She will bear a son; and you shall call His name Jesus [Yeshua], for He will save His people from their sins.
Later, when Simeon saw the baby Jesus and heard His name, he said in Luke 2:30,
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation.
Speaking in Hebrew or Aramaic, his words carried a double meaning, for he also said, “For my eyes have seen Your Yeshua.”
So Hab. 3:13 also prophesied that Yeshua would save His people. It was not merely salvation from external enemies but also from the last enemy, which is death (1 Cor. 15:26). To be saved from death on this level is to come into immortality.
A more immediate fulfillment of this prophecy is to be saved from enemy attacks, whether personal or national, and salvation from bondage under carnal governments.
The change of government from the beast systems to the Kingdom of God will involve divine judgment upon the current world system, which is said to be “the house of the evil” (Hab. 3:13), that is, the evil ones. The prophecy thus continues in Hab. 3:14, 15,
14 You pierced with his own spears the head of his throngs. They stormed in to scatter us; their exultation was like those who devour the oppressed in secret [mistawr].
Habakkuk’s first point is that God judges the enemy by using “his own spears” against him. Whatever mechanism the enemy tries to use against God’s people (in the day of their deliverance) is turned back on their own heads.
This is similar to what we see in the story of Esther, when Haman was hanged on his own gallows, which he had prepared for Mordecai (Esther 9:14). Another example can be seen in the fact that King Saul ultimately fell on his own sword after using it to pursue David (1 Sam. 31:4).
Still another example is seen in the days of Moses, when God used the gods of the Egyptians as plagues against them. These examples are all related to God’s practice of judging people by giving them the desires of their heart. Their complaint in Num. 11:4 was “Who will give us meat to eat?” God’s answer was that He would give them quail for an entire month (Num. 11:18, 19, 20).
The result is seen in Num. 11:33,
33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.
In other words, God also uses men’s carnal desires as His weapon against them. Whether men use external weapons or internal carnal desires, God used them all to bring judgment upon the house of the evil ones.
The prophet’s terminology also suggests what the book of Revelation reveals with greater clarity—Mystery Babylon. The Greek word for “mystery” is musterion, “secret, hidden, covert,” which is, in this case, a secret government that has arisen at the end of the present age.
The Hebrew equivalent is mistawr, which is similar to the Greek word and carries the same meaning. Habakkuk’s revelation tells us that the oppressor devours the oppressed ones “in secret.” To devour is a Hebrew idiom that denotes conquest. Hence, Joshua said in Num. 14:9 KJV, “they are bread for us.” To consume is to conquer. So Habakkuk spoke of the conquest of Babylon, which also speaks of Mystery Babylon at the end of the age. It uses well-known nations as its own weapon to conquer, while remaining hidden in the background.
Hab. 3:15 continues,
15 You trampled on the sea with Your horses, on the surge of many waters.
The horse is a metaphor for salvation. Yet one cannot rely upon fleshly horses. Isaiah 31:1 and 3 says,
1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord… 3 Now the Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit; so the Lord will stretch out His hand, and he who helps will stumble and he who is helped will fall, and all of them will come to an end together.
The kings of Israel were instructed to rely upon God in Deut. 17:16, saying,
16 Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never again return that way.”
Jesus Himself is our salvation (Yeshua), and even His Greek name (Jesus) is a transliteration from two Hebrew words: Yah and sus. Yah is Yahweh; sus means horse. Jesus is literally Yahweh’s horse.
We too, as the body of Christ, are part of the White Horse company, on which Jesus rides when He returns, according to Rev. 19:11. I believe this is how we ought to interpret Hab. 3:15. The “horses” in this case are more than one horse, and so it includes Jesus and His body. They will trample (or dominate) the “many waters,” which are “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev. 17:15.
Hab. 3:16 says,
16 I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble, because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us.
Prophets are stressed when they have a revelation of impending judgment. The situation is made worse because normally the people do not listen to their warnings. In fact, if the people would have ears to hear the word coming from the prophet, they would also have had ears to hear the word of the Lord directly from God. But because they did not have ears to hear God’s voice, they would not hear the prophet either.
The prophet is called, nonetheless, to speak the word of warning, so that the people are without excuse. Yet the prophet is dishonored for contradicting the normal religious view, and many have been killed throughout history.
Habakkuk found himself under similar stress. Though we have no evidence that he was persecuted or killed, he implies that few would listen to his warnings. Hence, he said, “I must wait quietly for the day of distress” when the Babylonian invaders would arrive.
Hab. 3:17-19 summarizes the theme of this prophetic book, which is about faith in spite of delays.
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, 18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.
If one focuses upon the things lacking, this might sound quite depressing. But the prophet intended to make a clear contrast, saying, It does not matter how long the promise is delayed—or even how long the time of judgment lasts; I know that His promise will not fail in the end. For this reason, “I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”
The prophet will not drag his feet heavily, but instead compares his feet to “hinds’ feet.” The hind, or gazelle, is known for its swiftness and sure footedness. Hence, like the gazelle, the prophet feels no drudgery and will not fall when walking on dangerous “high places.”
Such is the description of those whose faith has been tested. So we read in 1 Peter 1:6, 7,
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Faith is always tested to prove its quality. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17), not by men determining to lay hold of something that is his own idea of what he wishes to have.
Faith is laying hold of what God has promised, not what man, by the power of his own will, tries to extract from God. Faith that is based upon man’s wishful thinking or his positive thinking, may not survive the fire of God. But if God has truly spoken, and one is faithful to believe that God is able and will indeed fulfill His word, such faith will only strengthen the more it is put through the fire.
Many religions in the world confuse positive thinking with faith. The difference is in knowing who is the source or the goal that is desired. Many try to obtain wealth by thinking positively. Some religious people act on the idea that God wants everyone to be wealthy; hence, they try to make it happen by sheer willpower.
Yet biblical faith is to believe the promise of God, given by the promise of God and His will; it is not based on the will of man, nor can anyone force God to give what He has not promised.
It really comes down to each one to hearing God’s voice and knowing specifically what God has promised individually to each person according to his/her calling. The prophet leaves open the possibility that one may suffer long periods of shortages, but this is not a lack of faith.
The same was true in the New Testament era, as Peter shows. If faith is compared to gold, one does not merely come to possess this “gold” without the possibility of it being tested in fire.
Others may observe those whose faith is being tested by hardship or deprivation and conclude that their faith is weak. “If you really had faith, this would not be happening to you,” they might say—to which we might respond by quoting Hab. 3:17, 18.
Again, if the promise of God is delayed—even to a future age, as in the case of Habakkuk—it does not mean that one’s faith is deficient. Abrahamic Faith simply believes that “what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:21), regardless of how long it might take.
When God has truly spoken, and when we have truly heard, we then have an inner knowing that cannot be shaken or burned in the fire of delays.