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

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