Habakkuk Lesson 6
“The Ways of the Lord are Everlasting”
(Click here for other Lessons in the Habakkuk series.)
At the end of Chapter 2, the Lord is on His Holy Throne, and the earth is silent before Him. Hush!
Don’t you wish you could know everything that Habakkuk saw in this vision? We do know that what he saw combined with what he had learned from his conversations with the Lord, resulted in chapter 3. When the silence was broken, Habakkuk prayed.
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
This prayer was a song, to be played upon stringed instruments (see the end of verse 19). Calvin’s commentary suggests that Habakkuk taught this song to the people before they went into exile. Habakkuk, the prophet who had just delivered to his people the sad news that they would be judged and overtaken by the cruel Chaldeans, now lovingly gives his people a song/prayer that they can take with them into captivity in a pagan land to remember their God, to give them hope.
This kind of remembering/hoping song reminded me of the hymns sung by the slaves in our country. They sang these unique songs to each other and taught them to their children to remember their cultural heritage while they were in captivity, to encourage them through difficult times, and even to impart information in a kind of code during the days of the underground railroad.
Why a song?
Isn’t it so much easier to memorize things that are set to music? I know the books of the Bible in order and the names of the twelve disciples because someone set them to music and taught them to me long ago. I know many Scriptures by heart because I sang them as hymns in church. Our brains seem to latch on to any words paired with a catchy tune.
(Just a note about the word “Shigionoth”…. from the many commentaries I read, there is no clear consensus about the meaning of this word. It’s only other use in the Bible is in the singular form in Psalm 7. Most agree that it is some kind of poetic or muscial form and perhaps a dirge. See the GotQuestions.org site’s description here.)
Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear.
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
Habakkuk begins his prayer by acknowledging reverent fear of the Lord from what he had heard, both what he heard about the coming judgment of both Judah and the Chaldeans and what he had heard of the Lord from the past.
There is a sense that this hearing has brought about a new understanding of the Lord. The Christ Centered Exposition Commentary notes “It’s as if he were saying – I’ve heard, but now I see!”
When he saw, he was in awe!
For the first 35 years of my life, I had heard of the Grand Canyon. I knew it was vast, breath-taking, and magnificent. Some told me it was the most amazing thing that they had ever seen! So, I had a mental picture and expectations of what it would be like. However, when I finally had the chance to go to Arizona and see the Grand Canyon for myself, the description I had heard and the pictures in my mind were so very inferior to the real thing!
The sense from verse 2 of Habakkuk is that kind of new revelation. Considering how blown away he was by God’s answers to his questions earlier in the book, is it any wonder that Habakkuk now sees with new eyes?
Job had a similar change of his view of God as revealed in Job 42: 5-6
Habakkuk’s 3 petitions before God:
1. Revive your work in the midst of the years.
2. Make your work known in the midst of the years.
3. In Wrath, remember mercy.
Habakkuk has learned that both Judah and Babylon will be judged by God for their wickedness. But, Habakkuk knows that judgment can bring repentance. Also, from Chapter 1, Habakkuk knows that there will be a remnant saved. All of God’s people will not be destroyed.
Repentance and turning back to God would result in the fulfillment of all 3 of Habakkuk’s requests!
Godly repentance would result in Judah again worshiping God in the correct way. God’s work would be revived.
If the people repent and return to worship the Lord, they would again be a light unto the nations. Then knowledge of God would spread. God’s work would be made known.
When people turn from sin and repent, God is faithful in forgiveness. God will show mercy in the midst of His wrath.
Habakkuk simply prays that the result of the upcoming horrible judgments will be repentance and worship of God among the people.
Ultimately, this is the best outcome –when judgment acts as a discipline to restore the sinner.
As Matthew Henry’s commentary pointed out, we must not say, “remember our merit, but remember YOUR mercy, O Lord”.
In verses 3-6, Habakkuk declares the glorious acts of God, and the power of his judgment. Habakkuk states these facts in 3rd person about God, as if Habakkuk is reminding both himself and all the people that hear this song/prayer of these facts.
The places that it speaks of God coming from, Teman and Mount Paran, are in the south, suggesting that these verses refer to God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.
The images of his radiance, the sunlight, and flashing rays, refer to the dazzling Shekinah glory of the Lord. Again, this probably refers to how God led the Israelites in the desert.
Verse 5 talks about plague and pestilence – two judgments that God used against Pharoah and the Egyptians to free the people from Egypt.
Yet, in verse 6, it speaks of God surveying the earth, startling the nations, shattering mountains, and collapsing hills. These images are more associated with the judgment that God will bring at the beginning of the Millenial reign on earth. Judgment with consequences for all the nations, and for the earth itself.
So, just as in the middle of the woes of chapter 2 when Habakkuk looked ahead to the future kingdom on earth as he spoke of the “earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord…” Here again, Habakkuk sees in the immediate judgment and hopeful deliverance of Israel the glimpse of future judgment and deliverance that will be for the whole earth.
Verse 6 ends with the statement “His ways are everlasting”.
Habakkuk has come to the realization that God is eternal in the heavens. Even though he has strength and might to judge nations, he is always the same. His plan will go on, and no one can thwart it – not disobedient Israelites, not prideful, brutal Babylonians.
Can you see why the things that we have learned so far about Habakkuk’s prayer are great gifts to give to his people in captivity. He reminds them through song of God’s work, and God’s mercy for those who repent. He reminds them of the great deeds that God has done in bringing the people out of captivity in the past, and in the future. These are great comforts and pillars of strength for the people to hold on to in their time of trial. And the call for repentance and revival of the work of God will continue to call the people of Judah back to salvation.
1. Habakkuk’s prayer showed his acceptance of God’s will, God’s timing, and God’s awesome character. He no longer questions God’s coming action. His prayer is simply for repentance of the people and glorifying God.
As we grow in our understanding of the Lord, our prayers should reflect our growth. We should be less demanding, and less self serving in our requests. We should ultimately grow so that we are praying for the Lord’s will to be done in all circumstances. Through the good and the “bad”.
2. Reviewing God’s mighty deeds that we know from Scripture and that we have experienced in our own lives helps us to align our prayers with the will of God. Also, in the midst of hard times and seemingly insurmountable problems, isn’t it wonderfully sustaining to remember just how powerful our God is?
3. Habakkuk grew in his understanding that God had a plan that was eternal. While he was concerned with the immediate happenings, during his life time, God caused him to see that this was all a part of an eternal plan. We need to remember in our prayers that our lives are just small points for a short time in God’s timetable. God has an eternal, kingdom plan, and we need to pray for that kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done.
4. This last application came to me while thinking of the people learning this song to keep these truths alive within them during the captivity. Because it is so easy to memorize by learning words set to music, we need to be careful what words set to music that we put into our minds.
Not to be legalistic, but I mentioned before some of the Biblical things I know because of songs. I also know some not so great and important things through songs. For example, I know that “Maresy doats and doesy doats and little lambsy ivy.” And, I can also tell you that a Big Mac sandwich is made of 2 all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. In fact, my brain is full of many jingles and lyrics that are never things that I would try to learn, but because they were songs, they have stuck in there for decades.
So, just as a caution and encouragement, let’s try to put good songs in our minds that can teach us of God and encourage us in times of trouble, like Habakkuk did with his people.