The Warrior Psalm, Habakkuk 3:1-15

Roar by Holly J. Kroening
1  A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on 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 it known;
​​In wrath remember mercy.
3 ​​God came from Teman,
​​The Holy One from Mount Paran.                                          Selah
​​​His glory covered the heavens,
​​And the earth was full of His praise.
4 ​​His brightness was like the light;
​​He had rays flashing from His hand,
​​And there His power was hidden.
5 ​​Before Him went pestilence,
​​And fever followed at His feet.
​6 ​​He stood and measured the earth;
​​He looked and startled the nations.
​​And the everlasting mountains were scattered,
​​The perpetual hills bowed.
​​His ways are everlasting.
7 ​​I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
​​The curtains of the land of Midian trembled.
8 ​​O LORD, were You displeased with the rivers,
​​Was Your anger against the rivers,
​​Was Your wrath against the sea,
​​That You rode on Your horses,
​​Your chariots of salvation?
9 ​​Your bow was made quite ready;
​​Oaths were sworn over Your arrows.                                      Selah
You divided the earth with rivers.
10 ​​The mountains saw You and trembled;
​​The overflowing of the water passed by.
​​The deep uttered its voice,
​​And lifted its hands on high.
11 ​​The sun and moon stood still in their habitation;
​​At the light of Your arrows they went,
​​At the shining of Your glittering spear.
​12 ​​You marched through the land in indignation;
​​You trampled the nations in anger.
13 ​​You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
​​For salvation with Your Anointed.
​​You struck the head from the house of the wicked,
​​By laying bare from foundation to neck.                                 Selah
14 ​​You thrust through with his own arrows
​​The head of his villages.
​​They came out like a whirlwind to scatter me;
​​Their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret.
15 ​​You walked through the sea with Your horses,
​​Through the heap of great waters.

We started in deep lament and complaint, then moved into sorrow and judgment, and now we end with a hymn of praise. In Habakkuk’s waiting and wrestling with God, God was working on the prophet’s heart, transforming the sorrow and hopelessness into joy. This experience is unique to the believer – finding joy in unchanged circumstances.

The book of Habakkuk is rather short, and because of its brevity we may assume that Habakkuk’s heart was transformed quickly. However, that would not be fair for us to assume and is certainly not a healthy reality for us to adopt. When we look at the Bible as a whole, God’s timing is often slow (from our perspective), and He does not rush the transformation process. He understands our hearts better than we do, and He knows that healing, acceptance, change, etc. have a long germination period and will only grow when their roots have run deep into our hearts. There is a process and each of us journey that process differently.

When we reflect back on how God moves in the Bible, we see two things: 1) He is faithful to provide everything He has promised, and 2) we should not be discouraged when His provision takes time to unfold. The years we experience now are but a small piece of time when compared to eternity.

  • Abraham waited 25 years for the Lord to fulfill His promise and give him a son.
  • Jacob waited 14 years to marry Rachel.
  • Joseph waited 24 years before the Lord reconciled him to his brothers.
  • Moses waited 40 years to see God lead Israel to the promised land.
  • David waited 15 years from his anointing to become king.
  • Mary waited 30 years to see her son’s ministry begin.

However, no matter the length of the journey or how much time it may take, the final destination is the same: joy in the Lord.

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Psalm 30:11-12

Enter into a psalm of the prophet

We cross the threshold from sorrow and judgment into praise with verse 1, which seems to be a formal opening of song. There are two contextual clues that would suggest this is a psalm or song.

First, the prophet uses the word shigionoth (שִׁגָּיֹנָה), which scholars believe is a literary term that means “rambling poem” or an “irregular poetic expression”. This term is used one other time in the whole Bible, and it is found in Psalm 7:1: A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite…

Second, the prophet uses the word selah (סֶלֶה) three times in this chapter. The word selah is only used in the Psalms and Habakkuk. and it is a technical musical term that indicates accentuation or pause in the song. Habakkuk’s waiting on the Lord has ended in song and praise.

A song to remind us of what God has done

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 it known;
​​In wrath remember mercy.

There is a saying that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” and it is often how humans will respond to people or circumstance. Our present reaction is based on past experience. Habakkuk remembers God’s faithfulness to His people in the past with the full expectancy that God will be faithful in the now and in the future. As believers, we too can anticipate God’s faithfulness no matter the current circumstance.

Habakkuk begins the song acknowledging his fear and asking the Lord to revive His work. Like Judea, Habakkuk couldn’t see how God was working and his vision was clouded with fear and sorrow. However, the prophet has finally heard God – not just hearing from the ears, but from within his soul. Habakkuk has been transformed, or revived, because he can know see that God was actively moving in His creation.

When faced with an unknown and/or frightening future, our hearts should be comforted to know how God has provided for His people in the past. He is a God that never changes, so He will always provide.


Verses 3 – 15 portray a theophany, which is a visible manifestation of God to humankind.  This theophany describes God as the Divine Warrior, whose power and strength surpass any nation or foe.  Habakkuk uses a theophany to describe how God moved through history and brought about deliverance for His people.

Theophanies of God

Habakkuk’s theophany describing God as the Divine Warrior is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments. If you’d like to read more about the warrior-ness of God, check out the following passages:

  • Exodus 15
  • Psalm 18:7-15
  • Nahum 1:1-6
  • Judges 5:4-5
  • Daniel 7:9-10
  • Revelation 1:14-16

3 God came from Teman,
​​The Holy One from Mount Paran.                                          Selah
​​​His glory covered the heavens,
​​And the earth was full of His praise.
4 ​​His brightness was like the light;
​​He had rays flashing from His hand,
​​And there His power was hidden.

Habakkuk remembers God’s manifestation to His people at Mount Sinai and Mount Paran. This section of the prayer hearkens back to Moses’ final words to Israel in Deuteronomy 33:2-3 where the presence of God is described as a divine light. This light shone in Sinai and its flashing rays shot across neighboring regions, directing Israel’s march to Canaan.

2 He said, “The LORD came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. 3 Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps, receiving direction from you, Deuteronomy 33:2-3

Notice that Habakkuk inserts the first selah in the middle of verse 3 – the song has only just begun and the prophet wants us to stop and reflect.

God came; the Holy one came. Pause.

In our lament and sorrow, we can know that God will appear.


5 ​​Before Him went pestilence,
​​And fever followed at His feet.

Pestilence (or plagues), like those brought upon Egypt, follow the Lord. Each plague of Egypt came after a plea for the Pharaoh to show compassion; perhaps we should read these more as the Woes of Egypt.

God (through Moses) petitioned for Pharaoh to release the Israelites, and when Pharaoh denied God, the Lord demonstrated His power and gravity of His request. The Lord will lead with compassion, but will ultimately act justly to deliver His people. He must act because of His love, and His acts of love will be long remembered.


​6 ​​He stood and measured the earth;
​​He looked and startled the nations.
​​And the everlasting mountains were scattered,
​​The perpetual hills bowed.
​​His ways are everlasting.
7 ​​I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
​​The curtains of the land of Midian trembled.

The Lord measured the earth, and His sheer presence caused nations to fear, mountains to scatter, and the hills to bow down. Habakkuk draws again from the acts of God recorded in Deuteronomy, remembering that God once measured the land to draw an inheritance for His people.

God was faithful to his promise to Abraham and Jacob – He made their descendants into a great nation. With only a look, the Lord drove the Canaanites out of the land and scattered them, to make room for His people.

8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
9 But the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage. Deuteronomy 32:8-9

Jesus has also measured the earth and is making room for all who believe in Him. He has gone before us, preparing the Promised Land, and when He is done, He will return in a bright light, directing our march to our eternal home with God.

2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:2-3

8 ​​O LORD, were You displeased with the rivers,
​​Was Your anger against the rivers,
​​Was Your wrath against the sea,
​​That You rode on Your horses,
​​Your chariots of salvation?

Here the prophet recounts how the Lord provided a way for His people when it looked like there was no escape, or appeared there was no way to follow His commands. God parted the Jordan River and allowed Israel to cross on the dry land, just as He parted the Red Sea to provide an escape from the Egyptian army. He made a path when there appeared to be none.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go [back] by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry [land], and the waters were divided. Exodus 14:21

As the Lord delivers His people, He is also executing judgment against His enemies. His judgment and salvation go hand-in-hand. Just as when Jesus will return, there will be a final judgment, coupled with salvation for all of those who have committed their lives to Jesus.


9 ​​Your bow was made quite ready;
​​Oaths were sworn over Your arrows.                                      Selah
You divided the earth with rivers.
10 ​​The mountains saw You and trembled;
​​The overflowing of the water passed by.
​​The deep uttered its voice,
​​And lifted its hands on high.
11 ​​The sun and moon stood still in their habitation;
​​At the light of Your arrows they went,
​​At the shining of Your glittering spear.
​12 ​​You marched through the land in indignation;
​​You trampled the nations in anger.

Habakkuk stops the song for a second time in verse 9, asking for us to mediate on what God has done already. He has come. He has acted justly. He has led Israel to their inheritance. He has delivered His people. Pause.

The Lord is portrayed as a great warrior and Habakkuk acknowledges that any victory Israel had in battle was because of the Lord. Verses 9 – 12 speak of specifically of the battle at Gilgal, when the Lord went before Joshua and his armies to defeat the enemy. He caused panic; He caused hail to fall from the sky; He caused the sun and moon stand still so Israel could continue battle and defeat the enemy armies.

Joshua describes this event as “no day like it before or since” and that the Lord was the one fighting. All credit for the victory goes to the Lord.

13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel. Joshua 10:13-14

13 ​​You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
​​For salvation with Your Anointed.
​​You struck the head from the house of the wicked,
​​By laying bare from foundation to neck.                                 Selah
14 ​​You thrust through with his own arrows
​​The head of his villages.
​​They came out like a whirlwind to scatter me;
​​Their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret.
15 ​​You walked through the sea with Your horses,
​​Through the heap of great waters.

Salvation comes from the Lord, with His Anointed (Messiah; מָשַׁח). Habakkuk’s song looks back at how God used anointed leaders to deliver Israel from oppression and lead them to victory over their enemies. The anointed leaders, like Moses and Joshua, were but a fore-shadow of the true Anointed Messiah that was to come.

As believers, we look back on Habakkuk’s song and see Christ as the Anointed. We see how Christ came for the salvation of God’s people. Christ’s death and resurrection were the ultimate strike against the head from the house of the wicked (v. 13) and secured victory for all those who call upon His name for salvation.

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel. Genesis 3:15

At the end of verse 13, we enter into our last selah. We pause in God’s moment of salvation and look to His Anointed because after this pause, the enemy is struck down (in verse 14). We relish the time of salvation because justice is near.

As believers, we are in the time of salvation: God’s Anointed has redeemed us and we look to Him for our salvation. We are in the selah moment; waiting for the enemy to be struck down. We should be preparing for the eternal joy that is to come when the enemy is no longer!


The warrior-ness of God

The Lord’s warrior-ness is often neglected in our theology because somewhere in history we were taught that love equals peace and anything that does not promote peace cannot be loving. However, if we know that God is Love then His warrior-ness must be part of Love as well.

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Aslan, the Christ-figure in this book, is a fierce warrior and noble king. His warrior-ness does not detract from the love he shows when he gives up his life for the traitor, Edmund. Likewise, his warrior-ness does not detract from the love that he shows when he leads his army to victory, conquering evil for the sake of love and goodness. Like Mr. Beaver said, Aslan can be good and a warrior at the same time.

Do you really want to worship a safe god? A safe god *never drives us to our knees in hungry, desperate praying and never sets us on our feet in fierce, fixed determination. A safe god does not ask anything of you that you aren’t comfortable doing. A safe god does not inspire or command attention. A safe god cannot defend his own truth.

Believers should not worship a safe god because the safe god does not exist in the Bible. The good, loving, holy, warrior God exists in the Bible. Only a warrior God can defend His people and save them from their enemies.

As believers look to the future, we also hold onto the promise that Christ will return and deliver us from the sinfulness in ourselves and the world. The apostle John used the same theophany-type language to describe Christ – the same Christ who preached love and peace is also described as a Divine Warrior.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.

The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades". Revelation 1:12-18

We worship God, who is both lion and lamb; servant and king; warrior and peacemaker; merciful and just. And He is good.

*Your God is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control by Mark Buchanan

Homework

  1. How did reading about God, the Divine Warrior, make you feel? Did you experience conflict with acknowledging his warrior-ness?
  2. How has remembering the mighty acts of God (either from the Bible or from how you’ve experienced Him) helped you when dealing with a difficult situation?
  3. How have you made God safe? How do you think this has prevented your growth as a Christian?


Singing the book of Habakkuk

“God’s Not Dead” by Newsboys

…Let heaven roar
And fire fall
Come shake the ground
With the sound
Of revival…

Habakkuk: A Journey of Suffering © by Rachael McMullen