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Previous article in this series: September 15, 2023, p. 493.

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. Habakkuk 3:3-6

 

In chapter 3:2, as we have seen, Habakkuk prays that God will continue His incomprehensible work of saving His people through chastisement for their sins: “revive thy work in the midst of the years.” He prays that in sending the horrors of the Babylonian conquest, God will make Himself known, even in the coming of the Babylonians, as the covenant God of His people: “in the midst of the years make known.” He prays, remembering God’s works and ways in ancient times, that God will in wrath remember mercy, even while severely chastising His people as He did in the past.

In 3:3-15 Habakkuk remembers those ancient ways, seeing in them a pattern of God’s works for all time. The coming of Babylon will be no different, not really, from God’s dealing with Israel in the wilderness: different people and different circumstances, to be sure, but the same God of the covenant working out in the same mysterious ways His eternal purpose to receive His people as His own into that land, where the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (chap. 2:14).

Verse 3a makes reference to Teman and Mount Paran. Mount Paran, following Deuteronomy 33:2, is a reference to Mount Sinai, which was near or in the wilderness of Paran (Num. 10:12). Teman is a reference to Edom (Gen. 36:15; Jer. 49:7, 20), since Esau had a grandson named Teman and his name is often used as a synonym for Edom. The two names more or less define the area of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. God was with Israel in the wilderness and that great truth marks the first occurrence of the word “selah.”

The word translated “from” in the KJV is a word that means “among,” and that is the emphasis of verse 3. The verse could be translated “God came among (them) at Teman, and the Holy One among (them) at Mount Paran.” If the translation of the KJV is retained, the verse still traces Israel’s wilderness wandering and God’s presence with them through their journeys. The idea then is not that God came to them from Teman and Mount Paran, but with them. God was among His people even during those difficult years, which were often years of murmuring, rebellion, and judgment.

The second part of verse 3 really belongs with what follows, a description of the glory, the power, the wrath, and the justice of God, all revealed repeatedly in the story of Israel’s wanderings.

Verses 3b through 7 tell that story, but with a focus not on the people and what happened to them, but on the presence of God Himself.

Verse 3b speaks of His glory in terms of brightness and light. The brightness of His glory at Sinai was such that Moses’ face shone after forty days with God in the mountain, shone so brightly that he had to cover his face with a veil. Exodus 24:17 says “And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” It was so bright they did not want to stay at the mount but asked Moses to go and speak to God on their behalf. “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” (Heb. 12:21).

God revealed His glory in the cloud of glory, the Shekinah, that followed or led Israel through the wilderness, always a symbol of God’s glorious presence, a light to Israel, but darkness to the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Isaiah 52:12, also a reference to Israel’s departure from Egypt and entrance into the wilderness, says, “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.” Both Isaiah and Habakkuk see in the glorious presence of God the promise that He will always be among His people, as in the wilderness.

So obvious was His presence that “the earth was full of his praise.” The nations, Egypt, Amalek, Edom, Moab, the Amorites, and the Canaanites were afraid, not of Israel but of Him. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to meet Israel in the wilderness because he had “heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 18:1). When Israel finally entered Canaan, Rahab told the spies, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed” (Josh. 2:9, 10).

Habakkuk was thinking of those things when he wrote verse 3. Verse 4 continues the thought. Horns are always a symbol of power in Scripture (Ps. 75:1), and Habakkuk speaks of horns coming out of God’s hand to remind Israel and us that He whose hand plagued Egypt, divided the sea, made a way in the wilderness, defeated Amalek, gave manna and water, and gave them the land, was the almighty Savior of His people. Egypt to Canaan is the story of those hands and their power.

Habakkuk confesses in the same breath that what Israel saw in the wilderness, what Judah would see in the coming of the Babylonians, was only a small display of God’s power: “there was the hiding of his power.” He was thinking, we may be sure, of what Moses saw at Sinai when God made His glory pass by Moses, hiding Moses in a crack in the rock and covering the crack with His hand. Job, too, had confessed long before: “Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14). Habakkuk’s point is that God is able to use the wicked Babylonians for the salvation of His people and, having used them, to hold them accountable and bring upon them the judgments described in chapter 2:5-20.

What a truth for us when heresies arise in the church, when the church comes under the just chastisement of God, when He uses wicked men to chastise His people, when all things seem to be against them. Habakkuk’s words are for the end times, too, times more evil than Habakkuk faced. When Antichrist comes, when the church is persecuted as never before and scattered, when it seems as though faith is not to be found on the earth, then too God will reveal His hand and it will have horns coming out of it, horns to push and destroy the nations and to save His people. Even then what we will see will be but the hiding of His power, for He is the Almighty.

Habakkuk 3:5 describes God’s judgments in the wilderness. The reference to pestilence is to the plagues that God sent on Israel four times in the wilderness (Num. 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-49; 25:8, 9). The reference to burning coals is to the fire that burned at Kibroth and twice at Kadesh (Num. 11:1; 16:35; 26:10). It may even be a reference to the plague of fiery serpents in the wilderness (Num. 21:6-8). God’s own appearance at Sinai was fiery and Deuteronomy 33:2 describes the law as fiery. Whatever the specific references in Israel’s history, the verse speaks of God’s coming in judgment, as He will come again at the end of the world through Him whose feet are like burning brass (Rev. 1:15).

Pestilence and fire may also be the judgments God visited on Egypt and on the heathen nations, but Habakkuk is comparing the predicted coming of Babylon and God’s use of them to the times of chastisement in the wilderness. He wants it to be evident that in those chastisements, both past and future, God is faithful to His covenant and His promises, and sovereignly uses those chastisements for the good of His covenant people. Israel’s past history was the pattern for what lay ahead and the great events of the past would help Habakkuk and Israel to see present and future events more clearly.

Verse 6 we take as a reference to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and entrance into the land of Canaan. Then the nations were driven asunder and a place made among them for His people. Then, too, He measured the earth and found in it room for the people of His covenant. Even the mountains and hills could not stand in the way of His coming and power. He smashed the mountains and the hills sank at His coming, so verse 6 says literally.

Thus always does Scripture describe the coming of the Lord. Isaiah 40:4, 5, says: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Isaiah is describing God’s coming as the God of His people. No wonder, then, that Isaiah’s words are quoted in reference to the coming of Christ and His forerunner (Luke 3:5).

But God always comes in judgment when He comes for the salvation of His people. Zion is redeemed with judgment (Is. 1:27), and judgment always begins at the house of God (I Pet. 4:17). Judgment must begin at the house of God because God’s people are themselves sinful and their sins must be dealt with in the righteousness and justice of God. That judgment, however, is always visited on someone else on their behalf, and so in wrath He remembers mercy, pouring out His wrath on the Son of His love, while showing mercy to those who deserve wrath and eternal punishment.

Also in reference to the coming of the Babylonians and God’s use of them to chastise His people, Isaiah says: “When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence” (64:3). Psalm 65:5 echoes the words of the prophets: “By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea.” So it was when Israel came out of Egypt and forty years later entered the land of Canaan. Then God came as the God of His people and scattered the nations on their behalf. But never did He overlook the sins of His people, visiting them always in righteousness.

All this looks forward to the coming of Christ, when God in His righteousness came as Judge. Then, too, He drove asunder the nations, bringing on them His just judgment for the murder of His Son. Then too He visited the sins of His people by terrible things in righteousness, pouring all the terrors of His just judgment against sin on His Son. There, at the cross, where His Son died, He in wrath remembered mercy, as never before and never again.

This looks forward also to the end, when God will once more drive asunder the nations. Then too God will chastise His people once more through another coming of Babylon. By terrible things in righteousness, He will answer once again Habakkuk’s prayer against the sins of God’s people. We see, if we have any sight at all, the rightness of Habakkuk’s prayer in 1:1-4. But then too in wrath God will remember mercy, such mercy as eye has not seen or ear heard or entered into the heart of man to imagine.

That is the point of the closing words of verse 6, “his ways are everlasting.” In the wilderness, at Golgotha, now in His dealing with His church, and finally when the end comes, His ways are always the same. Always He reveals Himself a righteous Judge and as one too pure of eyes to behold evil (1:3). Never does He overlook or ignore sin. Always He punishes sin to the uttermost of His just judgments. Never does it go unpunished. Always too He remembers mercy, and in judgment and righteousness shows Himself to be the God of the covenant who keeps covenant with His people, never casting them off.

What a day it will be when once more He causes the mountains to flow down like water, the perpetual hills to bow, when in wrath, He remembers mercy, drives asunder the nations, measures the earth, and finds in the new heavens and earth an everlasting place for His people. Then, and then only, will Habakkuk’s prayer be answered and his song sung as it ought to be.