Praying Through the Bible #104
TEXT: Habakkuk 3:1-2: “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”
Today we turn our attention to two verses in the last chapter of the little book of Habakkuk. Not much is known about the man Habakkuk. His name, which means “embracer” or “one who clings or grapples”, is fitting because he grapples with the difficult question of God’s decision to use the heathen nation of Babylon to punish the people of Judah. Habakkuk is one of the few who introduces himself with the formal title of “prophet”, leading some scholars to believe that he was a ‘professional prophet’, one who was a member of the “school of prophets”, and thus trained for the task.
Habakkuk likely lived during the reign of the good King Josiah and was led to prophesy during the reigns of the evil kings who came after Josiah. Habakkuk had experienced a time when his nation was being blessed by God because of the obedience of its leaders, and he also experienced his people slipping into spiritual lethargy and sin. As the late theologian, James Montgomery Boice, host of the Bible Study Hour radio program, said, “Habakkuk had a problem. He had lived through a period of national revival followed by a period of spiritual decline.”
It is out of this problem that Habakkuk’s preaching comes. In the first chapter of his book, Habakkuk has a dialogue with God: He cries out in despair at the spiritual condition of his people. He asks God why isn’t something being done. And, God tells Habakkuk that something will be done — the Babylonians will come to punish Judah for their iniquity and idolatry. But, Habakkuk doesn’t like that answer; he doesn’t understand why God will allow a heathen nation to punish God’s chosen people. But Habakkuk says, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what [God] will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.”
In chapter 2, God provides a justification of His choice of judgment on the nation of Judah. He tells Habakkuk that the judgment will come on a future generation so he has to “write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” God explains to Habakkuk that He will be ultimately triumphant over all the wicked — the Jews and the Babylonians. God reminds His prophet of His own wisdom and strength and how that He knows how to deal with the rebellious people of all nations.
And, now we come to chapter 3 in which Habakkuk responds to God’s explanation of His judgment on Judah. No longer does Habakkuk protest God’s ways, rather he offers a prayer of praise.
1. Habakkuk’s prayer of praise. The heading of chapter 3 reminds us of some of the psalms written by David. It says, “a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.” The word, “shigionoth”, appears only one other time in Scripture, in Psalm 7.
This word refers to a distinctive type of song sung in a spirit of victory and excitement. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, it is often taken to mean “frenzied or emotional.” It is a song of enthusiasm and praise.
Despite the sobering defense of His judgments that God has just given to Habakkuk, this prophet’s response is to express praise and thanksgiving to God. Is Habakkuk happy that his people will be judged severely? Is he glad that his people will suffer. Of course not.
What Habakkuk is glad about is the fact that God is in complete control. He controls Babylon and Judah, and Habakkuk knows that even though God’s judgments may not always be understandable to his finite mind, God knows and will do what is best for His people and for the world.