iv) The desire for His people (vv.8-9). The questions here are asked, but not answered: "Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine (notice the change here; he had been speaking about God: now he speaks to God) anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?" (v.8). M C Unger states: "It was not the Lord's displeasure against the waters of the Red Sea, but His delight in intervening on behalf of His people's 'salvation' (v.13)". But whilst, as Unger suggests, this alludes to the passage of the Red Sea, we must remember that God will do the same in the future: see Isaiah 11.15. Habakkuk refers here to events at the end-time. The statement, "Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers", also points to the future, rather than the past: see Zechariah 14.8, but see Psalms 105.41; 114.8.
The words, "Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah" (v.9), have given translators some headaches! RV and ASV are identical: "Thy bow was made quite bare, the oaths to the tribes were a sure word". JND is rather complicated - "Thy bow was made quite naked, the rods of discipline sworn according to thy word". It seems, therefore, that in His desire for the blessing of His people God will intervene to ensure their safe passage as they return to the land (v.8), and fulfill every promise made to them (v.9).
v) The deference of creation (vv.10-11). All creation bows to the voice of the Creator as He comes. (i) The mountains (v.10): "The mountains saw thee, and they trembled". (ii) The waters (v.10): "the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high" (cp Josh 3.16). (iii) The sun and moon (v.11): "The sun and moon stood still in their habitation". The allusion to past events is clear: see Joshua 10.12-13, "And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed". But this will evidently be repeated in the future: see Zechariah 14.6-7; Psalm 114.3-7.
The words, "At the light of thine arrows they went [At the light of thine arrows which shot forth, JND] and at the shining of thy glittering spear", could refer to lightning and hailstones respectively. For the former, see Psalm 18.14, and for the latter, see Joshua 10.11 and Psalm 18.13. But it seems more likely to understand this with reference to God's power. Nothing can impede His coming. At the assertion of His mighty power of conquest ("arrows" and "spear"), even creation must bow!
vi) The defeat of His enemies (vv.12-15). "Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the houses of the wicked...Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages...Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters". It is the march of a conqueror!
Notice the references to "salvation." The source of salvation: "thy chariots of salvation" (v.8); the subjects of salvation: "the salvation of thy people" (v.13); the song of salvation: "I will joy in the God of my salvation" (v.18).
Although the word "anointed" (v.13) is singular, it evidently refers to Israel. See JND: "Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, For the salvation of thine anointed". Compare Psalm 105.14: "He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; Saying, touch not mine anointed (ones)".
But salvation from whom? "Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah." ("Thou didst smite off the head from the house of the wicked", JND.) "Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages". ("Thou didst strike through with his own spears the head of his leaders", JND.) (vv.13-14). Compare Psalm 110.6: "He shall wound the heads (literally, 'head', singular) over many countries". These verses therefore describe the salvation of His people from the power of a great enemy. There can be little doubt that this is an allusion to "the beast". No power or obstacle will be able to prevent total victory. Once again, the language recalls deliverance from the power of Pharaoh (perhaps from the power of the kings of Canaan - see Joshua 10.10-11): "They came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was to devour the poor secretly. Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters" (vv.14-15). Past deliverance will be repeated.
The Faith of Habakkuk (vv.16-19)
We must notice here: His reaction (v.16); his resolve (vv.17-18); His rejoicing (vv.18-19).
i) His reaction (v.16). "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself." Like Isaiah, Habakkuk cried in effect, "Woe is me" (Is 6.5). The vision of God's majesty and power caused the end of all argument. But the same vision, which caused Habakkuk so much fear, brought "rest in the day of trouble" ("That I might rest in the day of distress (like Noah, meaning "rest"), when their invader shall come up against the people", JND).
So the vision caused Habakkuk personal distress. Who or what was he in the light of it? Totally unworthy! It also brought him rest: God had everything under control! His terror is turned into trust. It is summed up in 2 Corinthians 12.10: "when I am weak, then am I strong".
ii) His resolve (vv.17-18). Because Habakkuk had seen the purpose of God and the power of God, he could rejoice in the most appalling circumstances, for "the just shall live by his faith" (2.4). "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield not meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls (and that was what was going to happen), Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." What sublime faith! These words refer to the "scorched earth" policy of the Chaldeans. There is nothing left but God! Habakkuk knew that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Lk 12.15).
iii) His rejoicing (vv.18-19). Notice that Habakkuk rejoices in a personal relationship with God in an uncertain world. "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places."
a) He is rejoicing in adverse circumstances. We can easily rejoice in favourable circumstances. Habakkuk had been through a bruising experience. Paul could say, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am...to be content" (Phil 4.11-12). Job could say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13.15). Jeremiah could say, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness" (Lam 3.22-23).
b) He is not rejoicing because of his circumstances. He is rejoicing "In the God of my salvation."
c) He was rejoicing because something infinitely better lay ahead! He looked beyond the immediate, to the ultimate. The coming desolation of Judah was but an integral part of God's purpose. He rises above his frustration and misunderstanding of ch.1. His complaint turns to rejoicing! Before, Habakkuk was uncertain and unsure, but he had learnt that he could trust God in the enigmas of life. He is content at the end, although he has nothing - apart from joy in God! When Paul was in prison with nothing but the clothes in which he stood, he was able to say, "I have all and abound" (Phil 4.18). He had nothing, but he had everything! In the world, joy co-exists with success. But here we have impoverishment. In the world, joy co-exists with prosperity. But here we have poverty. In the world, joy co-exists with acclaim. But here we have persecution.
Men in Habakkuk's position would doubt the future: but he rejoices in the Lord! Men without Christ would doubt, but we can "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom 5.2). Men without Christ would despair. They can go through suffering with tenacity, fortitude, stoicism, but not with joy! We "glory in tribulations also" (Rom 5.3). Men without Christ would dread. But we can "joy in God" (Rom 5.11). We too can say, "I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation". The man who began with bewilderment and uncertainty, ends by treading his high places with sure feet far above the mists and darkness of earth. He is overwhelmed in ch.1, where he walks by sight. But he rides above it all in ch.3, where he walks by faith! "To walk upon mine high places" describes balance and sure-footedness with a steep precipice on either side.
So Habakkuk concludes with salvation ("the God of my salvation"), strength ("The Lord God is my strength": he did not find his strength in logical argument or enlightenment), and stability ("he will make my feet like hinds' feet"). Habakkuk realised that in the deprivation resulting from the coming Babylonian invasion, God was working out His purpose and would achieve the ultimate blessing of His people.