Was your anger against the rivers,
or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
on your chariot of salvation?
9 You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows. Selah
You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
you threshed the nations in anger.
13 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. Selah
14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
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 3:8-16 ESV
Habakkuk continues his recitation of God’s mighty acts on behalf of Israel, and his objective seems quite apparent. By recounting the various stories from Israel’s past that illustrate God’s power and sovereignty, Habakkuk is reminding himself and his readers that they have nothing to fear. Their God has a long and illustrious record of dominating victories over the natural order and human opposition.
He starts by describing God’s anger against the rivers and the sea. This is likely a reference to the Nile, the Jordan River, and the Red Sea. In all three cases, God had displayed His sovereign power over these bodies of water by performing miraculous acts of transformation. In the first of the plagues God brought against the Egyptians, He had commanded Moses to turn the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood.
In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 ESV
Habakkuk rhetorically asks, “Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea…?” (Habakkuk 3:8 ESV). And the answer is, “No!” God was not displaying His wrath against the Nile, but He was using it as a way to display His unsurpassed power to the stubborn Egyptians and the reluctant Israelites. Moses had warned Pharaoh that, unless he released the people of Israel, their God would act on their behalf and the Egyptians would get a painful lesson concerning God’s power.
Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.” – Exodus 7:17 ESV
But despite God’s display of power, Pharaoh proved resistant and continued to refuse the repeated requests of Moses to release the people of Israel. So, God brought another ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. And when the death of the firstborn finally forced Pharoah to reluctantly acquiesce and set the Israelites free, God had one more miracle in store that would finalize His redemptive plan for Israel. At the waters of the Red Sea, God provided another remarkable display of His sovereign power.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Exodus 14:21-22 ESV
After Pharaoh had finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, they had made it as far as the Red Sea, when Pharaoh had another change of heart and sent his army to recapture them. When the Israelites became aware of their hopeless circumstance, “they feared greatly…and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10 ESV). And then they complained to Moses, expressing their regret at having allowed him to convince them to leave Egypt. But Moses assured them that God was not done yet.
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV
And the salvation of God took the form of the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army with all its chariots. But not only that, God used those very same waters to destroy the Egyptians, bringing their 400 years of captivity and subjugation to a climactic end.
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. – Exodus 14:27-28 ESV
And Habakkuk, in recalling this fateful event in Israel’s history, points out that God had not been angry with the waters of the Red Sea, but He had simply used this natural barrier as a tool to accomplish His divine will for His chosen people. Habakkuk leaves not doubt as to God’s intent: “you were sending your chariots of salvation!” (Habakkuk 3:8 NLT).
And years later, God would repeat this miraculous event when the Israelites arrived at the Jordan River, the eastern border of the land of Canaan. They had arrived when the river was at flood stage, creating a natural barrier the prevented them from crossing over into the land that God had provided as their inheritance. But, as always, God had a plan in place.
So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.
Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT
Habakkuk pictures God as a mighty warrior, brandishing His bow and using the arrows from His quiver to “split the earth with rivers” (Habakkuk 3:9 ESV). This imagery portrays God’s creation of the rivers and seas as an act of war, as He sovereignly ordained these natural resources to be part of His redemptive plan. He had placed each of them right where they were for a reason. He had divinely prepared them for the role they would play in the future salvation of Israel. And Habakkuk describes the rest of nature as spectators to God’s war-like creation of the rivers and seas.
The mountains watched and trembled.
Onward swept the raging waters.
The mighty deep cried out,
lifting its hands in submission.
The sun and moon stood still in the sky
as your brilliant arrows flew
and your glittering spear flashed. – Habakkuk 3:10-11 NLT
Habakkuk personifies the mountains, and even the planets, as silent witness to God’s actions, reacting with appropriate awe and fear at what they see. In Habakkuk’s creative representation of God’s redemptive work, He pictures the Almighty as a powerful warrior making His way across the landscape, leaving a wake of destruction in His path, as He rescues His anointed ones from their enemies.
You marched across the land in anger
and trampled the nations in your fury.
You went out to rescue your chosen people,
to save your anointed ones.
You crushed the heads of the wicked
and stripped their bones from head to toe. – Habakkuk 3:12-13 NLT
This imagery had to have put a smile on Habakkuk’s face. Faced with the dismal circumstances taking place in Judah, and the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, Habakkuk relished the idea of God wreaking havoc on their enemies.
In recalling God’s defeat of the Egyptians at the waters of the Red Sea, Habakkuk found the comfort and encouragement he needed to face his current circumstances. Yes, all looked lost. The enemy was bearing down on them. It appeared that they had no way of escape. And yet, there was always hope when God was involved.
With his own weapons,
you destroyed the chief of those
who rushed out like a whirlwind,
thinking Israel would be easy prey.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
and the mighty waters piled high. – Habakkuk 3:14-15 NLT
All those years ago, the Egyptians had showed up with their chariots and horses, ready to defeat and recapture the helpless Israelites. But things did not turn out as expected.
The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” – Exodus 14:23-25 ESV
God used their weapons against them. The wheels of their heavy chariots became bogged down in the mud. Trapped by the muck and the mire, their horses unable to move, the Egyptians were little more than sitting ducks. They had trampled the sea with their horses, but God had piled high the mighty waters. And then, the “waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Exodus 14:28 ESV).
And when the waters had receded, the Israelites discovered that their great God had delivered a mighty victory.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. – Exodus 14:30 ESV
And Habakkuk describes himself as being visibly shaken by his recollection of God’s past deliverance of His people. If God could do it then, Habakkuk knew God could do it again.
I trembled inside when I heard this;
my lips quivered with fear.
My legs gave way beneath me,
and I shook in terror.
I will wait quietly for the coming day
when disaster will strike the people who invade us. – Habakkuk 3:16 NLT
His confidence in God restored, Habakuk expresses his willingness to wait for the salvation of the Lord. Rather than being dismayed at the circumstances facing Judah, Habakkuk trembled at the thought of what God would one day do on their behalf.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.