A Sad Departure

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181 pages, copyright 2001

In an age where things are not built to last; fixing something cost more money that buying a new one, and the average lifespan of newlyweds is three years, it seems more difficult to remain faithful. How difficult would it be to leave a local church? For many that would not be hard at all. And what about a denomination? That would probably be easier for many Americans. When ‘church’ is so easy to obtain with mega churches, online streaming and cell groups by Skype, remaining faithful to a denomination seems archaic at best. So it was a tough job for someone to write a book about how difficult it would be to leave a denomination and not vilify other Christians, but David J. Randall found a way. How could someone with a different background understand this? I was not raised in a denomination, I am not from Scotland, and so it is not my reality. But Randall was victorious. He captured the affective aspect of leaving a denomination that ia so woven in the fabric of that nation and families to the fourth and fifth generation. How do we hold strongly to our convictions and still behave in a way that honors Christ? Randall wrote the textbook. Read it. It will be time well spent.

Brian – D.O.C.

 

Love or Die – Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church

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by Alexander Strauch

copyright 2008

Among the stack of books I “have”to read, this one was the easiest to understand but hardest to practice!  Strauch expounds on Revelation 2:4 and the church at Ephesus.  The order of his chapters were just as important as the content.  Chapter three of this book is entitled, “Teach Love.”  My eyes immediately went to that chapter, and I wanted to camp out there first, but I read the book in order and the chapter before it was “Pray for Love.” This was important and after incorporating this in my quiet time, it has really helped.  The chapter about teaching love was so difficult to rush through.  It was convicting on many levels, but especially the sentence that read, “Thus the Christian home should be characterized by Christ’s unselfish, giving love–a love that is initiated by the husband.”  The word ‘initiated’ was what caused me to pause and repent.  The other highlight of this book was his focus on the local church.  In the age of the so called, “virtual church,” Strauch helps church leaders and members consider how we learn how to biblically love one another when he writes, “If you are not a participating member of a local church, then you are not in God’s school of love.”  If you are brave enough to read this book, let me know what you think.

Brian Spivey — D.O.C.

A Memorial

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I don’t think you meet too many great men in life, but I’ve had the privilege of knowing a couple. Eivion Williams had been a member of my church since 1983 and was a successful business man before coming to Christ. Once he became a Christian, he phased out his business interests so that he could serve the Lord in other ways. He ran the Schenectady City Mission for five years, then served a local Christian school, then was President of the Alpha Pregnancy Center for several years until he passed away last Sunday, April 17.

I learned a lot from him, mostly by example. He had great faith in God’s goodness, trusted God’s Word, and believed His promises. Eivion really had a heart to see sinner’s come to Christ, especially his friends and family. He also had a passion to save unborn babies from abortion and to help young mothers make the right decisions. He was a guy who prayed, then took action.

Clifton Park Community Church is going to miss him greatly. He was a faithful deacon, brother, and friend, as well as a godly father and husband. Even though he wasn’t saved until later in life, he was used by God to do great things in the church and in the community he served. Eivion was “all in”, and that’s primarily how I’ll remember him.

One can only wish to leave such a Christ-like legacy.

C.M. Granger

A Sermon Preached Without Words

I came across the story of this Christian couple who are country singers, Joey and Rory Feek, through my wife.  Joey was a new mother when diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, she recently passed away in March of this year.  The backstory is Joey was a huge fan and admirer of Dolly Parton, and a family friend had arranged for Dolly to give her a special message, slipped into the middle of a favorite movie, as she was in Hospice care at her childhood home in Alexandria, IN.

What struck me very deeply in the video of Joey’s joyful reaction is the way Rory, her husband, wept over her joy (although I’m sure those tears contained sorrow as well).

I can tell you the video clip embedded in this blog post preached to me like no sermon ever has.  It’s a living example of godly marital love, and I was deeply convicted of how far short I fall with regard to loving my wife as I should.  Since this is living theology, I thought it most appropriate for a theology blog.

C.M. Granger

 

Theological Trajectories from Eden & Sinai in Habakkuk 3, concluded.

  1. Themes of Habakkuk 3 in the Rest of Scripture

The latter books of the Old Testament

The physical city of Jerusalem, home of the throne of David and the temple (the throne of God), was fundamental to the plans of God as unfolded in the Old Testament. But with the holy city destroyed and the people of Judah taken away from the land, concerns arose about the future of God’s plans as the Old Testament era drew to a close. Yet, the writing of Habakkuk set forth a foundation for faith and trust in the Lord in the face of grim circumstances.

A careful reading of the book demonstrates, however, that an eschatological promise for Israel remains. Babylon will ultimately be judged for its evil, and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” … The book concludes with Habakkuk waiting for ‘the day of trouble to come upon those who invade us” (3:16), which almost certainly also involves salvation for Israel.[1]

Writing later in the sixth century to encourage the returned exiles and their leaders in the work of rebuilding and restoring the temple, Haggai echoes the triumphant language of Habakkuk:

Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. (2:21-22)

The other minor prophets “were aware of one another, with earlier prophets influencing the language and the imagery of those who came later.”[2]  In various ways they “recast the fulfillment of God’s objectives in an apocalyptic and eschatological light.”[3]

It seems as if Babylon has the last word at the end of the canon. But, just as God descended at the beginning of the canon to judge Babylon [Babel] and so to bring to nothing human pretensions to unite heaven and earth, so, through a foreign king [Cyrus], He commands an exiled Judah to go up from Babylon and build the temple, from which blessing will proceed. God is not finished with Abraham. There has been a setback, but the blessing will come through the Davidic house. Hope remains.[4]

As unexpectedly as the Lord raised up a people to punish His own (Habakkuk 1:5), He would summon a king named Cyrus into His service to return them (2 Chronicles 36:22) — even calling him His anointed (Isaiah 45:1). Habakkuk 3:13 spoke of an anointed one, but this was not a reference to an individual, and not the future Messiah. Habakkuk correlates this term with your people (3:12) and it refers to Israel as a whole, as Daniel Block confirms.[5]

Ultimately, the whole narrative shape of Israel’s completed Scriptures (Old Testament) show the Lord’s “overriding concern to reveal Himself, that is His character and His intentions, to His people and through them to the world.”[6]

The Gospels

Are there connections in the New Testament with the Habakkuk themes? Yes, primarily in the Epistles and the Book of Revelation, yet some subtle connections can be seen in the Gospels and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. For instance, the descriptions of Jesus’ power and authority over the waves of the sea (e.g., Matthew 8:23–27), recall Habakkuk 3:15. When the disciples ask “Who is this?” the scene portrays Jesus as the divine LORD — for “in the Old Testament only Yahweh triumphs over a stormy sea.”[7] In the passion narratives, Christ crushes and conquers the seed of the serpent as foreshadowed of the language of Habakkuk, You crushed the head of the house of the wicked (3:13c), and, You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors (3:14a).

Through the judgment of the enemy, the crushing of the head of the seed of the serpent, Yahweh saves His people. …. [as] in Habakkuk, Yahweh is glorified in salvation through judgment.[8]

In a fascinating line of thought, Schreiner sees the emphasis on divine sovereignty found in John’s Gospel as having a connection to the conclusion of Habakkuk 3, and the prophet’s resulting calm trust and submission to the unfolding ways of God (yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength, 3:18-19) —

Since Jesus’ death fulfills God’s plan, John especially emphasizes divine sovereignty during the Passion Narrative. What happened to Jesus cannot be ascribed to the cruelty of fate or to events spinning out of control. Instead God supervised and superintended every detail. Hence, when Jesus knew death was about to befall Him, [c.f., Habakkuk’s situation] He did not flee in fear and even offered Himself to His captors, knowing that God was ruling even in such a dark hour.[9]

The Epistles

References to Habakkuk 3 are few in the New Testament Epistles, but of course the great truth of Habakkuk 2:4 plays a significant role in several letters (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and, Hebrews 10:38). Reflecting on these New Testament references to 2:4 opens a conduit to recall the wider context of Habakkuk, including the psalm-prayer of chapter three — which itself is a precious illustration of the way of living by faith.

Aspects of Habakkuk 3 are seen in Hebrews. For example, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the attendant desolated (3:17) seem to stand behind Hebrews 13:14, For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come, and, similarly 11:10, For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. The status of exile is mentioned in Hebrews 11:13 — These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth —and resonates richly with the resolve of the prophet Habakkuk at 3:18-19, who will wait for his removal but rejoice that his feet are made strong for the pilgrimage ahead. Finally, 2 Peter 2:9 alludes to two themes from Habakkuk 3, rescue for His people and delayed-but-certain judgment for the unrighteous. Peter declares that, the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment. Habakkuk, who mentions both (3:2, in wrath remember mercy), would say, Amen.

The Book of Revelation

Certainly Habakkuk 3, broadly considered, is one of the many contributing threads in the tapestry of the “city” theme — traceable from Eden, to tabernacle, to Jerusalem, to temple, to exile (loss of city and temple), to return from exile, to the church[10], to the New Jerusalem. There are specific portions of Habakkuk 3 that come to mind as Revelation is read. The role of horse and chariot in God’s work of salvation (Habakkuk 3:8), seems to be fulfilled with the appearance of the rider on the white horse (Revelation 19:11-16). The majestic glory/light imagery of the presence of God from Habakkuk 3:3-4, (His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand…) appears fulfilled in Revelation 21:23 (And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb).

The climactic announcement of Revelation 21:3, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God,” is the glorious fulfillment to the great storyline of the whole Bible, including the desired resolution of Habakkuk in his psalm-like prayer. Lister concurs and summarizes —

In this simple yet profound phrase, God’s mission is complete. It is what we as Christians all long to hear. It tells us that God’s presence to redeem is successful; it has removed the barriers of Eden and reconciled us to His glorious, eschatological presence. At the center of this functional work is the presence of God in Christ. He comes to change us and prepare a way for us to draw near to God. …Finally, we see that Christ has come to serve and save; He comes again to judge and destroy God’s enemies and to make a way to the fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises for His people. As the warrior-king, God will wage His final battle to culminate the goals of redemption (Ex. 15:2; Deuteronomy 20; Isa. 59:16–18; Ezek. 38–39; Hab. 3:8-15; Zech 12:1-9; 14:3-5).[11]

 

[1] Thomas Schreiner, 413.

[2] James Hamilton, 231.

[3] J. Ryan Lister, 221.

[4] Stephen Dempster, 226-227.

[5] “Although the Latter Prophets (according to the Jewish canon) tell us a lot about the prophets’ understanding of the messiah, it is remarkable that the noun māšîaḥ occurs only in Habakkuk 3:13 and Isaiah 45:1. But neither text may be construed as a technical reference to the anointed one.” Daniel Block, in Hess & Carroll (ed.s), Israel’s Messiah in the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 24.

[6] Rikk E. Watts, in From Creation to New Creation, Daniel Gurtner & Benjamin Gladd, eds. (Hendrickson, 2013), 207.

[7] Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology:  Magnifying God in Christ, (Baker, 2008), 181.

[8] James Hamilton, 253.

[9] Thomas Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, (Baker, 2013), 524; emphasis and comment added.

[10] R.J. McKelvey explains the role of the church in this theme, “as much more than a type of the divine indwelling in the old sanctuary or the fulfillment of the prophecy that God would again dwell with his people after the exile…. God no longer dwells with his people in a sanctuary which they make for him; he dwells in them, and they are his temple.” Cited in Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, (Kregel Academic, 2008), 64.

[11] Lister, 323-4.

 

posted on behalf of Pastor Dave Bissett

C.M. Granger

Theological Trajectories from Eden & Sinai in Habakkuk 3 continued….

As the Song of Moses celebrates the defeat of the Egyptian slave masters, this psalm-like prayer contains a broad recollection of the Lord’s past powerful deeds of judgment for the salvation of His people. O. Palmer Robertson describes it as

a collage, a collecting of many images to convey an impression both of past experience and of future expectation is the medium of the prophet. Moses’ song, Deborah’s song, David’s song blend to provide a framework for anticipating the future.[1]

It is composed with an eye to the impending conquest of the captors of God’s people (the Babylonians). James Hamilton, Jr., in his aptly-titled work of biblical theology, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, concurs on this point:

Habakkuk’s psalm of praise rehearses Yahweh’s past acts of salvation through judgment in order to assure his audience that they can trust Yahweh, in spite of the faith-threatening nature of their circumstances.[2]

What are the actual points of connection in the text of these two songs? There are many terms and significant images in Habakkuk 3 that recall the Exodus, the Red Sea event, and specifically, the Song of Moses.[3] Certainly to the ancient Israelite’s ear, finding these in the climax of the book of Habakkuk would trigger a connection with the great, prototypical salvation event of the Old Testament — in some cases creating vivid contrasts.

The listing that follows is a brief overview of these connections, with comments, drawn from more detailed observations in the Hebrew text.

  • God, the Holy One, comes from a far mountain to powerfully interact with men… The Lord is the primary actor in both the psalm of Habakkuk and the Song of Moses, and He is the one celebrated for the display of His character, His power and the great salvation (through judgment) which He affects. Both use His covenant name, Yahweh, and both mention His holiness/distinctness from other beings.
  • the glory of the Lord covers [overwhelms] creation, to His praise… The verb for cover, used earlier (Habakkuk 2:17) to state how God will “overwhelm” His enemies, is also part the fulfillment of the great goal of Habakkuk 2:14. The widespread cover of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord certainly includes the execution of just judgments on His enemies, as well as the display of His redeemed grace to His people. The flood-victory over Egypt was but a foretaste of the coming defeat of the Chaldeans — and the ultimate victory over Babylon in Revelation.
  • His coming is attended by “pestilence” and “plague”… These particular terms which occur early in the Habakkuk psalm narrow the hearers recollection to the period of the great signs and wonders of the Exodus.
  • imagery of rivers,waters, and seas as sites of powerful conflict… Certainly the references of Habakkuk’s psalm could be pointing to several events in the Old Testament besides the Exodus deliverance at the Red Sea. Yet the reader’s mind is drawn to the scenes at the Nile River (where wonders were performed) and the Red Sea (at the supernatural climax of the deliverance), especially when taken in concert with the other terms and images presented by Habakkuk.
  • images of horses, chariots in conquest… While these are common elements of Old Testament battle scenarios, when mentioned by Habakkuk they add further impetus to recall the Exodus conflagration. The unforgettable refrain from the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1, 21) rushes to mind:  “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” Notice, however, that this is a contrasting connection between the two passages. In the Song of Moses, it is the man-made chariots of superpower Egypt which are destroyed by the Lord; whereas in Habakkuk’s psalm it is the Lord who rode a figurative chariot of salvation — referring to forces of physical forces of creation harnessed against His enemies at the day of judgment. This contrast does not undo the link, but strengthens the designs of Habakkuk, exalting the superior ways of God.
  • specific graphic actions involving the deep, trampling, and arrows… Among the key action verbs found in both passages, Habakkuk’s reference to the deep connects not only with the death-by-flood event of the Exodus, as described in the Song of Moses, but also with the great flood of Genesis. This world, and its heights and its depths are the Lord’s possession — and all are designed to function within the great blueprint of God for creation. In the hands of the Creator, the forces of nature are the greatest of all tools or weapons.
  • personal words of trust, hope, and praise at the closing… The opening and closing elements of both the psalm of Habakkuk and the Song of Moses convey the related purpose for the passages — to exalt and praise the Lord for past deliverances, as well as to express faith and trust in Him for full salvation in the future. The closing confession of Habakkuk (3:18-19) arrives with similar, profound power as does the refrain of Miriam at the close of the Song of Moses. What do the people of God need to fear, when He is such a powerful and faithful conqueror over the greatest armies and warriors of men?

 

These connections from Habakkuk 3 to the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 are readily spotted reading an English translation of text. But how much more, would a native Hebrew speaker react to Habakkuk’s chosen terms and images to recall the Song of Moses and events of the Exodus.

[1] O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, (William B. Eerdmans, 1990). 219.

[2] James Hamilton, Jr., 252-3.

[3] Thomas Schreiner, 413.

posted on behalf of Pastor Dave Bissett

C.M. Granger

Theological Trajectories from Eden & Sinai in Habakkuk 3

What follows is Dave’s paper (in sections) which was presented at the recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  It’s also going to be published in the July issue of the Puritan Reformed Theological Journal….

 

I.  Introduction

The trajectory of the various biblical motifs and themes woven within both the Old and the New Testaments reaches a climax in the book of Revelation. For instance, the garden-like temple-city of Revelation 21 is the climax of a major theme first evidenced in Genesis by the Garden of Eden, where “humans were created to build for God a temple-city on the earth.”

Additional themes from the creation account (e.g., man’s status as the Lord’s vice-regent) are developed in the story of the Bible, even as the fall of mankind into sin created significant twists and turns. The book of Exodus further develops these, as well as unique sub-themes (e.g., how God can continue to dwell among His people after their fall into sin). The tabernacle, the temple, and the city of Jerusalem in the promised land, all play very important roles in the grand theme of God’s design to dwell on earth with His people, and set the stage for the specific developments of the New Testament — the coming of Jesus Christ, the church, and ultimately, the “New Jerusalem” of Revelation 21.

This paper identifies a few of the key theological trajectories from Genesis and Exodus as they appear in the minor prophet Habakkuk, specifically focusing on chapter 3 — the “prayer of Habakkuk the prophet” — the final, climactic chapter of that book.

II.  Overview of Habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk is the eighth of twelve minor prophets found at the end of the Old Testament. These three short chapters were composed in Judah during the last days of Josiah and the regime of Jehoiakim, sometime prior to invasion by the Chaldeans (Babylonians) and the exile of Judah, c.605–587 BC.  Habakkuk himself is a main character of his book, yet little is known about him other than his title “prophet” (1:1). “Less is stated in the Bible concerning Habakkuk than almost any other prophet” says David Baker.  He was likely a contemporary of Jeremiah, as well as other minor prophets Nahum and Zephaniah. The minor prophets are often called The Twelve to stress their shared emphases and their collective unity. Stephen Dempster observes they all typically emphasize three things:  the sin of Israel, the just judgment of God, and, the hope after the judgment. Habakkuk focuses primarily on the first two of those common elements, while the third element is implied in several spots, as we will see.

Not every prophet in this collection predicts all these events, but the entire combination (12 minor prophets) presents a more panoramic view of the future than found in the previous prophets. … All announce coming judgment.

The times in which Habakkuk lived were filled with violence, and gross disobedience towards God and His law. “The fabric of national life had begun to come apart at the seams.”  God would chasten His people with the invasion of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and exile from the land — all as “the result of covenantal defection, of a failure to trust in and obey the Lord.”

The theme of the book of Habakkuk typically magnifies the pivotal verse, 2:4b, the righteous shall live by his faith.   R.K. Harrison provides a summary-like statement of the theme, while F.F. Bruce highlights Habakkuk’s personal application.

Spiritual rectitude is an absolute necessity for both individuals and nations; that wealth is at best a teachers foundation for a secure life; that evil is bound to fail ultimately even though it may experience temporary triumphs at the expense of good; and that trust in the power of God is the only sure basis of strength … whatever the external circumstances may be.

[Habakkuk’s theme is the] preservation of loyal trust in God in face of the challenge to faith presented by the bitter experience of foreign invasion. …Habakkuk, in hardship and privation, comes to know God more fully and to rejoice in Him for His own sake and not for the benefits He bestows.

Immediate context for Habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk is easily divided in two, with chapters one and two forming the first part — presenting a unique dialogue-of-sorts between the prophet and the Lord. The dialogue is initially about the sins of the people of Jerusalem and the seeming inattention of the Lord to the situation, but then quickly shifts, driven by the prophet’s concerns over the Lord’s harsh plan to deal those sins (invasion and exile at the hand of a wicked nation). Chapter three forms the second part — a prayer in the form of a psalm-like poem  presenting the prophet’s final response of faith in the Lord’s plans.

The third chapter, then, is the climax of the book, the result of the prophet’s dialogue with his Lord, and his digestion of that revelation.  Chapter three is titled a prayer (3:1), yet packaged and apparently presented to the people for use as a psalm in public worship (see 3:19c).  The intended audience was not limited to the doomed residents of Judah, but included any who would face similar, stark circumstances from the hand of the Lord.

In this prayer, Habakkuk asserts that he will do what Yahweh calls the righteous to do in 2:4, namely, he will trust Yahweh and rejoice in Him even if it seems that Yahweh’s promises of a prosperous land — blossoming fig trees, fruit on the vines, flocks in the fold, herds in the stalls — are not seen (3:17–19).

III.  Habakkuk 3 in the Bible’s Historical-Redemptive Story

The book of Habakkuk has several points of contact with the Bible’s central historical-redemptive storyline; the text of chapter 3, in particular, playing a crucial role. This section of the paper looks, first, at two broad connections with the Bible’s grand storyline in Habakkuk. It then narrows to examine the text chapter three in light of key trajectories from Eden and Sinai.

Connections to the Dominion Mandate.

Perhaps the strongest point of contact is found in the declaration of the prophet in Habakkuk 2:14, at the center of the “vision” (2:2) which he was instructed to write plainly and distribute widely:  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. This verse is anchored to the very purposes of creation, and displays God’s design behind the placement of mankind in the garden, as stated in the “Dominion Mandate” of Genesis 1:28 — And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

At creation, Yahweh designed a cosmic theater for His glory. On the cosmic stage God constructed a garden-temple, and He put His image in the temple. The image of God, man, was to extend the borders of the garden-temple by ruling over the earth and subduing it.

The grand design of God for establishing His dwelling with men on the earth took a great turn at the Fall of Adam and Eve and their exile from the garden (Genesis 3). When the wickedness of mankind grew great, the Lord permanently exiled all but eight souls from the face of the earth in the flood (Genesis 6–9). As the descendants of Noah increased and disobeyed the Creator’s commands, they attempted to build for themselves a man-made mountain-city named Babel, (Genesis 11) — revealing that “by instinct, men are city builders” who would “attempt to access heaven and avoid filling the earth.”

Nevertheless, God’s plan and purpose to fill the earth with His glorious presence remain. They are reiterated in Habakkuk 2:14, which speaks of “God’s purpose to establish and expand His presence in a new Edenic temple even after the exile.”  Whether God’s people were living east of Eden, or in Egypt as slaves, or in the southern half of a divided kingdom, or exiled from Jerusalem to the land of Babylon, the goal of our Creator’s Dominion Mandate — to fill the earth with His presence and the knowledge of His glory — will be passionately pursued.

The Lord’s commitment to be present with His people is overwhelming — strong enough to conquer sin and death. Nothing can thwart God’s plan to be with His people in a relationship that surpasses the intimacy of Eden. God’s goal to be with His people still directs the flow and outcome of salvation history as God providentially brings His redemptive mission to completion, a mission accomplished through covenants.

Connections to Babel–Babylon

This city of Babel not only “casts a long shadow over the whole of the biblical narrative”  but is particularly significant to the content of the book of Habakkuk. Babel is more widely known in the Old and New Testaments by its other name, Babylon. It represents the determined, rebellious efforts of man’s opposition to dwelling with God on His terms. It will only be finally destroyed in the last day (Rev. 18) at the return of Christ and the coming of the New Jerusalem.

The book of Habakkuk connects with the Babylon theme in two ways:  first, in the middle “woe” of the five announced in chapter two; and then, more generally in the rapidly-rising Babylonian empire (“Chaldeans” in 1:6), whom God raises up to destroy the holy city and take its residents into captivity!   The particular woe of Habakkuk 2:12-13 is clearly against those who live and labor as did the first Babylonians:  12 Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?

Tellingly, Habakkuk’s comments highlight the futility of building Babylon through the oppression of others, for ultimately when the New Jerusalem comes, the earth will be filled with God’s glory (2:14).

In the days of Habakkuk, although the northern kingdom had gone into exile, there were people of God dwelling in Jerusalem, with the temple of God in their midst. And as her prophets faithfully labored, “the importance of Jerusalem [began] to grow in prophetic eschatology.”   But the people were living in sin and spiritual rebellion even after witnessing the exile of the northern kingdom a century earlier.

She herself had not learned, however, that repeated violation of the covenant with God on her own part would not be left unpunished forever. She would not, according to the prophet, be faced with a similar fate herself.

The Lord will not let the residents of Jerusalem continue to live as if they were residents of Babylon — and so He ordains through Habakkuk that He will exile them to that very place (1:6ff). “Israel sinned like Adam and was exiled from God’s presence and out of the land, and God withdrew His presence from their temple.”  Such a corrective move was vital to the larger mission of God, because “only by Israel being distinct from the nations was there any purpose in being Israel at all or any hope for the nations themselves eventually.”

It is a grand theme indeed, that Babel-Babylon — the “archetypal god-less city”  which represented the first rebellious effort to compete with the proper establishment of God’s dwelling with men on earth — would arise centuries later as a swift, merciless, military empire to overrun the holy city of Jerusalem during the lifetime of Habakkuk. Yet, as the book of Revelation makes clear, the Lord will destroy Babylon in the end, as the New Jerusalem arrives.

Connections to the Exodus and the “Song of Moses”

Perhaps the most exciting discovery in this study of Habakkuk is how the psalm-like prayer of chapter three makes use of the “Song of Moses” in Exodus 15. We will unpack those connections after first recalling the context of the Song of Moses, and showing how Habakkuk 3 is to be understood as a song.

After 400 years in slavery in Egypt, the LORD delivered His people from Pharaoh by powerful signs and wonders. Arie Leder reduces the theme of Exodus to one sentence:  “By mighty signs of power the Lord rescues Israel from Pharaoh and brings her to His presence at Sinai in order to dwell in her midst by means of the tabernacle.”[1]  To honor the Lord and to celebrate that great deliverance, Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD (Exodus 15:1).

This song reminds the reader of the wider perspective of the biblical narrative:  The nations will tremble at the passing of God’s people (15:14-16), and the establishing of the Lord’s dwelling place (15:13, 17).[2]

Blackburn concurs, that not only the Song of Moses but the entire book of Exodus sees “the Lord’s missionary commitment to make Himself know to the nations as the central theological concern.”[3]

But is the third chapter of Habakkuk also such a song? It is considered to be a psalm-like piece with designs for liturgical use in the temple[4] or by worshippers in the coming exile. There are clues that point the reader in this direction.

First, the presence of a formal title — which is explicitly a “prayer” but similar to many such titles in the Psalter used for poetic, liturgical prayer.[5]  Second, the liturgical term Shigionoth — which may refer to an instrument or a type of psalm (the term appears only here and at Psalm 7:1).  Third, we notice the repeated presence of the musical term Selah in 3:3, 9 and 13.  Finally, unique in the prophetic writings, there is an explicitly musical postscript, To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments (3:19c).

[1] Arie Leder, Reading Exodus to Learn and Learning to Read Exodus, Calvin Theological Journal 34 (1999), 35.

[2] Arie Leder, The Coherence of Exodus:  Narrative Unity and Meaning, Calvin Theological Journal 36 (2001), 258.

[3] W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known, NSBT 28, (Apollos/InterVarsity Press, 2012), 15.

[4] Daniel I. Block, 20.

[5] See Pss 17; 55:1; 61:1-2; 86; 90;102; 141:2; 142; and, 143:1. [Also, c.f., Ps. 72:20, The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.]

posted on behalf of Pastor Dave Bissett

C.M. Granger