I want to open with an extended warning from the pen of A. W. Tozer:
There is a strong tendency among religious teachers these days to disassociate anger from the divine character and to defend God by explaining away the Scriptures that relate it to Him. This is understandable, but in the light of the full revelation of God it is inexcusable.
Let a man question the inspiration of the Scriptures and a curious, even monstrous, inversion takes place: thereafter he judges the Word instead of letting the Word judge him; he determines what the Word should teach instead of permitting it to determine what he should believe; he edits, amends, strikes out, adds at his pleasure; but always he sits above the Word and makes it amenable to himself instead of kneeling before God and becoming amenable to the Word.
This is the world we are living in. Liberalism has fortified its walls and barricaded its doors. The “God is love and only love” folks have stockpiled their ammunition. People all around us are happy to talk about spirituality, but what they worship wouldn’t even accept a handout from the God of the Bible. The “gods” of this Western world are cowardly, one-dimensional, feminized hypocrites. And that is, by no means, the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures.
Habakkuk 3:3–16 tells us fascinating things about our God. It is poetic and the sole focus is God, His character, His ways. There are parts hard to translate and hard to understand, but it is Scripture, the revelation gifted to us from God Himself, preserved for us by God Himself. This is God’s self-disclosure. The great I Am is letting us in on a more intimate knowledge of Himself.
So, what do you do when you come across passages like this? Do you skim it? Do you get lost in your own thoughts, distracted by the lack of “practical helps” in the text? Or do you worship? Do you either metaphorically or literally fall on your face and worship? Do such texts irritate you or invigorate you?
Such an admonition is worth our consideration this morning. Each of us can fall into the trap of casually approaching God’s Word, lazily reading it, then getting up from the chair without having prayed, without having worshiped, without having adored the Lord. Is this where you are today? Is this where you’ve been in recent weeks? Recent months? Recent years?
This is where the slow decay of a once biblical view of God begins. The things that once fascinated us and caused our heart rate to quicken now seem worn out and dry. We once could read a portion of a Psalm and sense God’s voice in the text, not even grasping the entirety of what we’d read. But now we just churn through that same Psalm to get our daily reading commitment out of the way.
If your appetite for Scripture diminishes, I can guarantee that your appetite for God will go right along with it. Oh, you will publicly admit your fondness for the Sacred Book, but when the temperature of your circumstances begins to rise, your waning view of God Almighty just won’t keep you in the fight. And this is the very reason we need a text like this one, which confronts us with the greatness of God—no apologies, no uneasiness, no political correctness. Here is God as He is. Take Him or leave Him—at your own risk.
It reminds me of a scene from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis:
Mr. Beaver: “Aslan is a lion — the Lion — the great Lion.”
Susan: “Ooh — I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel quite nervous about meeting a lion.”
Mrs. Beaver: “That you will, deary, and make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
Lucy: “Then, he isn’t safe?”
Mr. Beaver: “Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
We may yet have a lot more ground to gain in remembering the “lion-ness” of our God. So, with that in mind, let’s look to the text. I have broken it into three parts:
- God is majestic.
- God is fearful (i.e., very great and to be feared).
- We are spectators.
We will begin where our text begins.
1. God Is Majestic
For the sake of bridging the gap between this and my last article, you need to remember that, according to the opening verse of chapter 3, this entire chapter is a prayer. Habakkuk has come a long way since the opening verses of chapter 1. His perplexed and troubled heart has been quieted, and the Lord has disclosed more of Himself to His prophet. Chapter 2 ended with this: “But the Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him” (v. 20).
And as Habakkuk begins to pray, we see the first of two bookends. In the second verse of chapter 3 we read, “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” That great second verse really sets the stage for the remainder of his prayer. “In wrath remember mercy!”
Now, Habakkuk’s prayer continues:
God came from Teman,~ Habakkuk 3:3–4
and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
God truly is majestic.
In verse 3, God comes. This is picturing a visitation from the Most High God. By the time we get to Habakkuk in the Old Testament, we have seen many such visitations described and prophesied. A similar example of this is seen in Deuteronomy 33:2: “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.”
Notice that the various “comings” of God are always attended by the spectacular, the fearsome, the majestic. Now, what do I mean when I say majestic? I like the Cambridge Dictionary’s attempt here: “having the quality of causing you to feel great admiration and respect for [something] because of its size, power, or beauty.” God is majestic. He fits that definition and then some. Do you see all the “His” statements in these two verses in Habakkuk?
- His splendor covered the heavens.
- The earth was full of His praise.
- His brightness was like the light.
- Rays flashed from His hand.
- There He veiled His power.
Can you even imagine what the scene would be like if God didn’t veil His power? It is as though the picture Habakkuk paints is what he sees of God, who displays only a small part of His greatness. God can’t show it all—we couldn’t handle it. So we see only in part, a muted hearing, a dimmed perspective, and still, His divine majesty overwhelms those who behold it. Do you remember the scene at Sinai after the giving of the Ten Commandments?
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”~ Exodus 20:18–20
God’s majesty comes and overpowers everything else. He is far more wonderful than we imagine Him to be. He is greater, wiser, holier, mightier, more merciful, more just, more gracious—He is more.
You should read a passage like this and walk away thinking and praying, My God is far more majestic than I ever imagined. Please show me your glory, O God! This kind of majesty repels the ungodly and reels in the godly. But is this your experience? As much as it is your experience, will you seek God for more? As much as it isn’t your experience, will you seek God for more?
2. God Is Fearful
That God is fearful really seems to be the focus for the next 12 verses (5–16). However, there is a shift from verses 3–7 to verses 8–16, where Habakkuk moves from third person (i.e., “he” and “his”) to second person (i.e., “you” and “your”). The significance of that change seems to indicate the prayer getting increasingly personal. In verse 8, the prayer turns into Habakkuk directly addressing the Lord.
Consider what Habakkuk says of our God who is to be feared.
Before him went pestilence,~ Habakkuk 3:5–6
and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
the everlasting hills sank low.
His were the everlasting ways.
The visitation of the Lord has dire consequences for all who are opposed to Him. That language of God standing and God looking is marvelous. If, with just a look, the nations shake and tremble, what will God’s judgment on the nations be like? His wrath is great. His judgments are great. His justice is great. Everything about our God is great!
Dr. A. H. Edelkoort stated, “Here we have a knowledge of God which few may come to, but which shows us the awful and holy being of God, in contrast to the sweet ideas from which men may draw their image of God, which is then no more than an idol.” On which side of the fence are you standing? Are you worshiping God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture—both sovereign and condescending, transcendent and immanent? Or have you pieced together a god of your own making who wants to cuddle and pacify you in your sin?
Look at more of this imagery. Habakkuk isn’t finished yet, and his poetic pen is on the move. Next, God is pictured as a fierce warrior.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?~ Habakkuk 3:8–9
Was your anger against the rivers,
or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows. Selah
You split the earth with rivers.
Again, this is poetic. God needs no chariot and shoots no arrows, but these images speak volumes. God executes judgments. He wields infinite power to vanquish all His enemies. God can part seas and rivers and cause the earth to open up and swallow men. The Lord can shake the earth—“The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it” (Nahum 1:5)—whether the quaking of the earth in judgment or His manifestation of Himself to His people in prayer: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
God is fearful, to be feared. He is fearsome, inspiring the fear of Him. When I think of the fearfulness of God, I can’t help but think of a scene in Revelation 6:
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”~ Revelation 6:15–17
Before we move on, there is something that really must be pointed out. There is this special note of salvation amid all this poetic language regarding God’s fierceness and fury.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck.~ Habakkuk 3:13
God will exercise His great power to save His people from their sins. As one brother has said, “God comes in frightening majesty when He comes to be merciful to His people.” It seems God is fiercely protective of both His glory and His people. He will crush His enemies and your enemies, dear Christian, in great fury, from top to bottom, thigh to neck. Think about it—God as warrior is a common biblical motif. Moses once proclaimed, “The Lord is a man of war” (Ex. 15:3). Never forget God’s fierce affection for His church. God is the Divine Warrior Champion who keeps watch over you. Who can stand against Him?
When we come to verse 16, there is something critical we must see as Habakkuk transparently exposes his innermost thoughts:
I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.~ Habakkuk 3:`16
Habakkuk is no longer deep in struggle, fearing the invading armies of Babylon. His fear has been redirected; it has regained its proper footing. A wrong kind of fear has been forsaken, replaced with the only right kind of fear. Habakkuk has had his mind renewed. He has seen the Lord as He is. It is highly likely that we all could use a “renewing of the mind”: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Many of us struggle far too often with far too many fears. William Gurnall said, “We fear men so much because we fear God so little.” We forget that the fearsome One is the only one we should be fearing.
Now I want you to consider one further reality.
3. We Are Spectators
My third point is that believers are spectators. To be clear, I am not promoting inactivity, as though I were saying, “Christians, you just sit on the bleachers over there.” Not at all. And yet, God’s people are spectators in a very real sense. We are spectators of divine majesty, onlookers of the greatness of God. When we think of some of the greatest deliverances in Scripture, we capture this reality well. When God so powerfully brings Israel out from under Pharaoh’s domination, God did it. God’s people merely watched the devastating events unfold. They walked with God in it, though, as the just always live by faith. But God was the actor. He sent the plagues. He led His people out by a pillar of flaming fire. He drowned the pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea. God did all of that and needed no accomplice.
Or think of the Assyrian army camped around the walls of Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day. God didn’t ask His people to fight by faith. He stepped in and delivered them. In a single night, God dispatched one of His angels and won the day. It was quick—not a single arrow needed to be fired from an Israelite bow. God killed 185,000 enemy soldiers and liberated His people from certain slaughter. God did that. No military counsel required.
But we haven’t even scratched the surface, spectators. There is a greater victory, something even more wonderful and more glorious we haven’t yet considered. How about the salvation of a people? How about the victory over sin and death? How about the battle won once and for all on Calvary’s cross? What say you, spectator? What role did you play in so great a salvation?
From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. He worked that work. He accomplished our liberation. He sets the captives free, and only He can do that. So, spectators must spectate. We must “behold our God.” We must do so from a seat of humility and be transported to heights of adoration and praise.
Our God is great. He is greatly to be praised. His greatness is unsearchable.
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.~ Isaiah 45:5-7
This is the One we worship, church. He is majestic. He is to be feared. And we get to watch Him win the day!