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

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