The Vision of Habakkuk (3.3-7)
Habakkuk received this vision in answer to his request, "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). Whilst, as we have noted, God partially answered the request of His servant in the return from exile, the words "in wrath remember mercy" have a strong prophetic connotation. His prayer would be fully answered at the end-time.
God answered Habakkuk's prayer with this tremendous vision. It is couched in language strikingly reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan, and this is summed up in the words: "Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people" (v.13). In this connection, we should notice the following: verses 3-8 recall Israel's deliverance from Egypt; verses 9-10 recall events in the wilderness journey; verses 11-14 recall events in the conquest of Canaan. But some details have to be forced to fit this interpretation, and it is better to take the vision as future, when God, in his wrath at the end time, will remember mercy, and intervene to save His people. But if the vision does refer to the end-time, why make clear references to the Exodus and following events? It is, surely, to assure Habakkuk, that God is quite capable of intervening on behalf of His people. He had done it once, and will do so again. He will, indeed, "revive his work"! Habakkuk is taken beyond the coming of the Chaldeans, to the coming of the Lord! We must notice the active verbs - "came" (v.3), "stood...measured...beheld…drove asunder" (v.6), "ride" (v.8), "cleave" (v.9), "march" (v.12), "wentest forth" (v.13), "walk" (v.15). God in action!
i) The direction from which He comes (v.3). "God (Eloah: singular of Elohim: 'the Adorable One') came (the tense is 'cometh') from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran." That is, He comes from the south. Teman and Paran are on opposite sides of the deep rift valley known as the Arabah. Teman is in Edomite territory. Compare Isaiah 63.1-4: "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine fat. I have trodden the winepress alone...For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come".
What is He doing in the south? Possibly, having come to the Mount of Olives, and opened the escape route from the besieged city (Zech 14.2ff), He will go south to deal with the enemy there, and this passage describes His return to Jerusalem. It should be noted, however, that this is the area in which Sinai is located: "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deut 33.2). He comes, therefore, from the area in which the covenant was made.
ii) The description of His glory (vv.3-5) "His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise" (v.3). This should be compared with Revelation 5.13: "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth…heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever". We must notice:
a) "His brightness was as the light" (v.4). Compare 1 Timothy 6.16: "Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto"; 1 John 1.5: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
b) "He had horns coming out of his hand" (v.4). Horns are a Scriptural emblem for strength, and this could therefore convey the strength of His work. But although the word is quite literally "horns", it seems more likely that this refers to rays of light - "Rays came forth from his hand" (JND).
c) "There was the hiding of his power" (v.4). That is, even with this revelation His essential glory was covered. "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Ex 33.20); "Whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Tim 6.16). The things that Habakkuk saw were not the revelation of God's power, but the "hiding of his power"!
d) "Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet" (v.5). This is reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt. The "burning coals" might refer to the plague of hail, which was more than "white lumps"! "Hail, and fire mingled with the hail" (Ex 9.24). See also Revelation 16.21 etc.
c) The deliberation in His coming (vv.6-7). "He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations." Nothing will be done in the heat of the moment. There will be no hasty decisions. He assessed the situation, and then acted. This must include His assessment of man's wickedness. No power is too great to withstand Him: "He…measured the earth". No political power is too great to withstand Him: "He…drove asunder the nations". Notice the effect on geography; and on men.
On geography (v.6). "The everlasting mountains were scattered", literally "shattered". "The perpetual hills did bow." There is no reason why this should not be understood quite literally. See, for example, the division and movement of the Mount of Olives (Zech 14.4). Note the comment: "his ways are everlasting". God will repeat His past dealings when acting for the deliverance of His people.
On men (v.7). This refers particularly to the nomadic tribes: "I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble". These people were accustomed to flapping tent curtains, but now they are utterly terrified!
To be continued.