The songs we sing show us how and what we think about things but they also influence us. Songs reflect the spirit of the age they were written in. That means even when the themes stay the same the way of thinking about such things change.
But the bible though written over centuries has enduring themes in its songs about God, be it Moses song of praise to God in Exodus, or Deborah’s in Judges 5, or David’s in 2 Samuel 22, or those in the Psalms - themselves written over hundreds of years. They endure, they show us who God is and how he acts and they were written to influence those who follow after and will make them their own and sing them.
Habakkuk began in chapter 1 with questions to ask God, why are the faithful remnant in Judah not being saved from their oppressors? And then when God revealed the Babylonian judgement; How, God, can you use such a wicked nation to judge one less wicked? And final 1:17 How long will Babylon keep on indulging her wicked godless rule? In chapter 2 we saw last God give Habakkuk and all his faith people a revelation of Babylon’s coming judgement and a vision for God’s faithful people to live by (2:14) “For the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” The justified are called to live faithfully because they know God and where the future is headed.
And that revelation leads Habakkuk to praise God, (1, 19b) show us that this is a prayer for God’s people to pray or sing. As Habakkuk pens his praise he draws on images of God’s deliverances of his people in the past, and like all great song writers draws on lyrics, or ideas in songs of the past.
Do you remember making collages when you were a child? **How did you make them? Collections of images, words or photo’s on a theme all put on one poster of wall. This song is a bit like of collage of the victories of God as he delivered his people in the past and it draws the conclusion that God is a God who can be trusted no matter the circumstances.
It’s a song so the structure is not necessarily logical, he is not building a cohesive argument but rather providing snapshots of a God worth trusting.
God is active and awesome
**Habakkuk begins how? “LORD, I have heard...” He is looking to the past and as he does so **how does he react “I stand in awe” he is amazed at God’s work. And so he prays “Renew them in our day,” Lord work out your purposes, and plans for salvation today I pray. He is not praying that God would not send the Babylonians to judge he knows they are coming, but he is trusting in the character and purposes of God he sees revealed in history. Lord do the same again – deliver your people through the midst of their struggle and the threats that surrounded them, “Lord in wrath remember mercy”.
He knows that God will judge Judah and eventually Babylon, he knows that God rules(2:17) and reigns as sovereign of all the earth and that one day his glory will cover the earth. He prays that God would be who he is that he would bring his salvation, achieve his purpose, fulfil his plans, and in justice remember mercy – that the righteous will live by their faithfulness.
This introduces the collage of images that is the source of this confidence and this prayer.
God is Glorious and Terrifying
**Where would you expect God to come from? Heaven, the temple, Jerusalem. **But where does God come from(3)? Teman and Mount Paran. It’s a reference to the root that Israel took from Sinai to the Promised Land, and is drawn from Deuteronomy 33:2 and Moses blessing of Israel. Sinai where God’s glory was revealed, where even the partially reflected glory of God on the face of Moses terrifies Aaron and the Israelites so much that they ask him to veil his face. And that glory is the theme of these verses, it is everywhere, God’s glory is uncontainable and it is overwhelmingly powerful(3-4). So powerful that even the strongest most permanent things in creation, the mountains, quake and are reduced to rubble. And as Israel advanced with God the nations around about them are terrified, because to oppose God means to face his glory and power in judgement(5, 6-7).
God is Warrior and Deliverer
(8)Is an odd verse isn’t it? Was God angry with the rivers or the sea and why? Some argue this is a reference to water as a symbol of chaos but I think it’s more historic than that. The answer we are meant to give to the question it poses is no, God is not angry with the rivers and sea, but he does use them to deliver his people in history. In fact that explanation makes most sense of the text and the historical collage here.
The text first – the question is posed is God angry at the sea and rivers? We are not given an answer until we are told who he is angry at (12-13) **who is it? “in anger you threshed the nations...You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness.” God is not angry with the rivers he is angry with the nations who oppose his people – because in opposing his people they oppose him and his plans. And the rivers (10)are used by God as a means of sweeping them away.
The historical – God is a warrior who fights to deliver his people, to save his anointed one. Turn to Exodus 15 Moses sings a song of praise to God after God brings them safely through the Red Sea and wipes out the Egyptian army and you can see that song picked up here. Turn to Judges 5:19-22 as Deborah praises God for his deliverance using the River Kishon with God pictured on his chariot.
God is a warrior who fights to deliver his people and keep his promises, to work out his plan of salvation, and ensure the coming of his anointed one. (11)Introduces another picture to the collage recalling Joshua’s defeat of Israels’ enemies as God makes the Sun and Moon stand still so they can be utterly routed, and also adds another picture of David’s deliverance from his song of praise in 2 Samuel 22:7-16 which pictures God as an archer and delivering his anointed king.
God is an awesome warrior who contends with the wicked, and those oppose his plans, who keeps his word and will bring his plan of salvation.
What God was he is, what God has revealed of his character in his acts of deliverance, in his keeping of his covenant promises, and his pursuit of his plan of salvation, God’s people can trust him to be even as they face the Babylonian exile, and the wait for their return in 70 years. The righteous, those who God has justified can live by faith trusting in the awesome God who is active who is glorious and terrifying, who is a warrior and their deliverer.
There is something raw and throbbing with power about Habakkuk’s description of God. It challenges our downsized, tamed, domesticated view of God. This is God in all his glory, in his sheer unstoppability, in his covenantal faithfulness , in his unending unswerving pursuit of his plan to bring salvation through his anointed one.
This collage of images confronts us with the real God we worship. It ought to provoke the same reaction in us as in Habakkuk “I stand in awe of your deeds” and prayer Father God reveal yourself to people, save your people. Do we ever think we have God nailed down, that we know all there is to know about him? This chapter challenges us.
It reminds me of CS Lewis’s Narnia books and Aslan. Aslan is not a tame lion, in fact you are never quite comfortable when he is around because you are always aware of his power and majesty, his untameability, yet you are utterly convinced that he is good.
A Right Response
Habakkuk began with questions, he began almost by putting God in the dock; what are you doing? Don’t you see? Are you listening? Then he was appalled and asked; how can you use the wicked to swallow up the relatively righteous and how long?
But he comes to trust God because of who God is not because of the answer he gives, because he comes to know God not just know what he is doing. It’s interesting because his questions are all about God revealing his plans, but God’s loving answer is not just here are my blueprints but here I am know me. He has his view of God not just expanded but exploded.
Notice (16)it doesn’t remove his fear of what God is going to do, but it does enable him to wait trusting God – not sitting waiting like we do at a bus stop – but actively living serving God, worshipping God, teaching others how to worship God, while he waits for God to be who he is.
(17-18)And it enables him even in the midst of barrenness to rejoice not become embittered and cynical, because his joy comes from the God he knows and faith in his word not in his circumstances. He will not draw conclusions about God from what he sees, but he reaches conclusions on what he sees based on what he knows about God. That is what it means to live by faith, and it is a mark of God’s people.
The books closes with Habakkuk a changed man “The Sovereign LORD is my strength...” Not because everything is going well, the wicked are still oppressing the righteous, justice is still being perverted, the exile and cruelty of the Babylonians is still on the horizon – knowing it is coming hasn’t removed those facts. But Habakkuk knows God, the sovereign glorious, awesome, untameable, warrior God who keeps his covenant and will his rescue his people in his way which will be the best way. And Habakkuk will live by faith, actively waiting, justified to live faithfully, liberated to serve joyfully, because God – this awesome amazing, terrifying God - is his strength.
How much more ought we who know that God is faithful, that he is our Saviour, that his determination to deliver his people sees his anointed one die in our place. Every Sunday we meet on the first day of the week to remember God our Saviour, and to look forward to the day when everything will be put under Jesus feet and he will reign and rule. “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour”