Habakkuk is a short three-chapter book near the end of the Old Testament written by the Prophet Habakkuk, who practiced as a prophet from the years 612-588 BC. At the time of writing, Judah had just has a succession of four wicked, God rejecting Kings who oppressed the people.
At the beginning of chapter 1, Habakkuk complained to God as to why the wicked in the land of Judah were not being punished by Him, to which God replied that He would soon use the Babylonians to punish them. This set Habakkuk off on another complaint as to why He would use the wicked Babylonians to punish His own people. God answers again, telling Habakkuk to carefully write down the words so that all would see and understand His words.
God’s answers fill chapter 2 as He tells Habakkuk that after the Babylonians have finished their work, they too will be punished.
As a result of god’s reply, Habakkuk begins to see who God really is: God is the creator and is all powerful and His plan will be carried out, punishing sin. But God is also our strength and shelter, so we must have confidence that He will forever love us and guard our relationship with Him.
As Habakkuk discovered, to experience Hope, we need to go beyond life’s daily headaches and experience the unique joy of knowing God. As Christians, we need to learn to trust God for all things; not settling for the worldly benefits or happiness’s or successes which we may experience in life. Our hope, only come from God.
Habakkuk then got down on His knees and together with others, prayed to God. Now an Old Covenant prayer in the Old Testament contrasts with a New Covenant Prayer from the New Testament in two basic ways. Firstly, in the Old, a Prayer is based on a covenant of God or is an appeal to an aspect of God’s character (see our article “The Names of God“) as revealed in Scripture. In the New Testament, Prayer is mean to be Relational, as in the instruction from Jesus in Matthew 6:9 saying to us: “When you pray, say, Our Father.”
Secondly, an Old Testament prayer, like one from Moses, was praying for an earthly people whose blessings and dangers were also earthly. By comparison with Paul’s prayers, which were for heavenly people whose blessings and dangers were spiritual.
Moving on now to Habakkuk’s Prayer which comprises the whole of Habakkuk 3:1-19 we see from the outset that it starts “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth“ (KJV). What is a Shigionoth? Though many bible commentaries say the meaning is unknown, many other renowned Christian sources say: “it is based on the word ‘Shiggaion’ from the verb shagah, meaning “to reel about through drink.” The plural form, Shigionoth, denotes a lyrical poem composed under strong mental emotion; a song of impassioned imagination accompanied with suitable music; a dithyrambic ode, a wild and impassioned choral hymn.” (various sources)
Given the revelations which Habakkuk has just received from God about God Himself, this seems a reasonable and apt meaning. However, the emotion and sense of victory which Shigionoth infers, is in stark contrast to the doom and gloom which characterise Habakkuk’s woes of Chapter 2.
Reading Habakkuk 3:1-19, the “Prayer” of the prophet, in the strictest sense of the word, is actually contained in the words of Habakkuk 3:2,
“O Jehovah, I have heard Your report; I am afraid. O Jehovah, give new life to Your work in the midst of years; in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” (MKJV)
The rest, from vv3-19, are praise and thanksgiving. Habakkuk rightly and correctly, mainly praises God for his past mercies; their deliverance out of Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land. Thanksgiving is an essential part of prayer, but for Habakkuk, it comprises practically the whole prayer! This is perhaps a style of Prayer which we need to reintroduce again today as normative for the Church, so that prayer and worship and thanksgiving and praise are all at the same time.
Let us now pray the Prayer of the Prophet Habakkuk for the days to come:
Dear Heavenly Father,
I come before You on my knees, my Lord and my God. I have read what our ancestors said about You O’ Lord God, and what is written about You in your Word. As You have done in the past, Lord God, please do so again and save our land. Renew your awesome deeds at this time Lord, but in the wrath of your judgement, please bring mercy.
We see signs that You are on Your way again, retracting the old salvation route. You are coming from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. O’ Lord, we bow before You.
As in the past, I pray the skies will blaze with Your splendour and praises for You and You alone, will soon fill the earth. May the brightness of your Glory be brighter than the sun of day, as bolts of lightning flash like sun rays, from your hands. The awesomeness of the power you hide in your hands – we cannot imagine.
In the past Lord, before You deadly plagues marched; fever and pestilence followed. Then and now, as You stand and measure the earth, let all the nations shake and tremble. Yes, Lord, soon all will see You and recognise You.
As the everlasting mountains flee before you and the ancient hill bow down flat before their maker, we now all see that only You and Your ways, are eternal, O’ Lord our God.
Your wilderness adversaries of old, the peoples of Cushan and Midian found distress and anguish before You. Like them, all of the earth will be in terror, hoping You will not see them.
O’ Lord God, is it the Rivers in this land which you are displeased with? Are You angry with our Rivers? Will you be angry at the Sea and ride your chariot and horse through it onto salvation? If not the Rivers, then what? Then who? For we see your warring bow is made ready and oaths have been sworn over the quivers of deadly arrows which You have prepared.
With Your Rivers, You divided the whole earth and split it into parts. The mountains of old twisted in pain as your flood waters poured in, for they knew what was coming. They knew Your power. Lord, even the Seas and Oceans roared and raised up huge waves, as they lifted up their hands to You in awe and gratitude. O’ Lord, I wish that we were the same!
Long ago in the firmament above us, You stopped the sun and the moon in their tracks. Will this be a sign again? Will Your flashing arrows stop them again as Your spears, like lightning strikes, impale them?
In anger, You have marched through this earth and in your fury, crushed nations under Your feet. You did this to save Your people; Your specially chosen and anointed people. You did this to grant them all salvation. You stripped wicked kings naked from head to toe and beat them for their ways, their severed heads were impaled on Your spears for all to see. You scattered their armies and turned them to dust as they fell by their own arrows, yes, even all their leaders. O’ lord, how You turned the tables on them!
Then we read that as the enemy armies scattered to the four winds You galloped through the Sea on Your horses, through the great waters, racing on from one wave crest to another.
Lord, as I hear of all this, I confess, my stomach churns in pain. I stammer and stutter before You Lord, unsure of my words. My bones are weak and I have no energy. I would stagger and stumble if I were to walk. Lord God, if it were possible, I would sit and wait for Doomsday to fall on those who persecute Your people and Your Church.
Yet, no matter what befalls me Lord, I will rejoice in You! Even if the fig trees forget to blossom; even if the grape vines are barren; even if the olives bear no oil, You are The Lord God Almighty!
Even if famine is upon our lands and our fields produce no crops; our sheep pens are sheepless; our cattle stalls and fields are empty and even if hunger is staring me in the face, I will give joy to the God of my Salvation!
O’ Lord God, You are my strength! For I know in my life I can count on God’s Rule and Will to prevail. Lord, You make me feel like I can run over mountains like a deer and of the mountains in my life, O’ Lord God, You make me feel like I’m the king of them all.
Oh Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be a sweet savour to you! May they be a sweet music unto You.
For your reference, an updated version The King James Version of Habakkuk 3:1-19 follows. The changes are only substituting old English words current ones: thy = yours, went forth = went out, thine = your, thou = you, didst ride = rode, didst cleave = split, didst march = marched, didst thresh = thrashed, wentest = went, woundedst = wounded, didst = did, cometh = came, mine = my.
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.
2 O LORD, I have heard Your speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.
3 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.
4 And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.
5 Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went out at his feet.
6 He stood, and measured the earth: He beheld, and drove as under the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: His ways are everlasting.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble
8 Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? Was Your anger against the rivers? Was Your wrath against the sea, that You rode upon Your horses and Your chariots of salvation?
9 Your bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even Your word. Selah. You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw You, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered His voice, and lifted up His hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of Your arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear.
12 You marched through the land in indignation, You thrashed the heathen in anger. 13 You went forth for the salvation of Your people, even for salvation with Your anointed; You wounded the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.
14 You did strike through with his staves (spear) the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.
15 You did walk through the sea with Your horses, through the heap of great waters.
16 When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he came up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.
17 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 no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ (female deer’s) feet, and he will make me to walk upon my high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.