Habakkuk's Praise (3.1-19)
As we have noticed, the prophecy of Habakkuk, which is a dialogue between the prophet and God, can be divided into five sections:
Habakkuk's problem: 1.1-4
God's answer: 1.5-11
Habakkuk's protest: 1.12-2.1
God's answer: 2.2-20
Habakkuk's praise: 3.1-19
The prophet has now seen that God always acts in complete consistency with His own character: (a) in dealing with evil in His own people, and (b) in dealing with evil in the nations. In both cases, He is preparing for the day when His purpose for mankind will be fulfilled, and "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory (not of the Chaldean or any other nation) of the Lord" (2.14). So, God's purposes are to be understood with reference to long term, not short term, considerations. As we shall see, Habakkuk no longer questions God's ways: he takes the place of humility: "I was afraid" (v.2). He no longer complains: he takes the place of an intercessor: "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years" (v.2). In the meantime, "the just shall live by his faith" (2.4).
Having seen that God will bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion, and fill the earth with His glory, Habakkuk utters his sublime prayer. The chapter can be divided as follows: His prayer (vv.1-2); His vision (vv.3-15); His faith (vv.16-19).
The Prayer of Habakkuk (vv.1-2)
Chapter 2 concludes with silence on earth: "The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (v.20). Chapter 3 commences and concludes with praise. We must notice:
i) The word of God promoted praise. "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid" (vv.1-2). So we have a psalm from a prophet! For Shigionoth, see Psalm 7 with its superscript, "Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite". We are told that the words Shigionoth (plural) and Shiggaion (singular) refer to a military composition. They probably indicate the rhythm. But, although the precise meaning of the two words is not easily determined, they do indicate that the compositions were to be set to music. This is clear from the concluding words of the prophecy: "to the chief singer ('musician' JND) on my stringed instruments" (v.19).
So Habakkuk heard the word of God ("O Lord, I have heard thy speech", v.2), and responded in praise to God. This is fitting in view of the fact that God had ended His answer to Habakkuk's protest with reference to His majesty and omnipotence: "The Lord is in his holy temple" (2.20). How much are we affected by the ways and purposes of God? We should be a praising people as well!
ii) The word of God promoted godly fear. "O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid" (v.2). Of what was Habakkuk afraid? Certainly not of the future. God had dealt with that problem. He was afraid of God Himself, possibly because he had dared to question the ways of God. However, Habakkuk did exhibit "the fear of the Lord", reminding us of Isaiah 66.2: "to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word". There is nothing inconsistent between praise and godly fear. The Word of God should produce "reverence and godly fear" (Heb 12.28).
iii) The word of God promoted intercession. "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy" (v.2). According to Gesenius (Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament), the word "revive" means "to cause to live" in the sense of "accomplish". According to D Martyn Lloyd-Jones (From Fear to Faith), the Hebrew word has the primary meaning of "preserve" or "keep alive". Habakkuk had demanded justice (1.2-4), but now he says, "Remember mercy"! He refers here to God's covenant with Israel. Habakkuk did not ask God to change His mind and deliver Judah from the Chaldeans. He had now seen that they were an integral part of God's purpose for His people, that is, in chastening them. But he does ask that God will work out his covenant-purposes for them, and this must involve the preservation of a remnant. This is praying within the will of God. His prayer was partially answered in Ezra 9.8 when there was "a little reviving in our bondage". Note particularly the words, "In the midst of the years". That is, in the present circumstances. Not, "at the end of the years". Habakkuk addressed the present in the light of the future. The burden of his prayer is, "Act now!", even though it is, "Not yet!" (2.3). He knew that the time had not fully come, but asks the Lord to act in the meantime.
So Habakkuk intercedes: (a) that God will work out His purposes, and (b) that God, because He is God, would act according to His nature: in wrath, and yet in mercy. And so He did. Even when Judah was under the sentence of divine wrath in Babylon, He showed mercy. We may therefore notice that Habakkuk's prayer includes, reverence for God, revival of the work, and remembrance of mercy.
To be continued.