OH! VISIT US AGAIN (Habakkuk 3)

I. Its Setting (2:20 – 3:1)

YHWH sits enthroned
within his home beyond;
let earth’s inhabitants
pause – hold their breath –
in silent, awesome wonder
before His Majesty.

Your spokesman Habakkuk
responds in such a way
in this reflective song:

II. Prayer (3:2)

O YHWH, great I AM,
on hearing of your fame
I’m dumbstruck, filled with awe;
your mighty acts of power
flood my memory.

O YHWH, covenant God,
renew them once again –
we need them in our day;
in our time make them known.

The wrath that we deserve
withhold, I humbly pray;
remember your hesed,
your pent-up wish . . . to bless
your folk with kindly grace.

[‘If my folk,’ you said.
‘will recollect themselves
in real humility,
and genuinely pray,
my presence seek with zeal,
then in my home beyond
I’ll listen to their prayer,
restore and heal their land
which foes would devastate.’]

III. Recollecting Past Visitations (v 3-15)

1. Moses’ day (v 3-10)

God . . . once. . . visited
from the southern parts;
the One who’s so distinct
came from Mount Paran . . .

(Oh can you just imagine?)

The splendour of his face
filled the very skies,
his praises echoing forth
to the corners of the earth.
His radiance burst upon us
as shock of sudden dawn;
his hand that hid his power
flashed with lightning rays.
Plagues acted as his vanguard,
epidemics in his wake.
He stood . . . that rocked the earth;
just looked . . . the nations quaked.
Aged mountains fell apart,
and ancient hills collapsed –
for his ways are older still!
I saw Bedouin tents in shreds,
borderers’ homes distressed –
tribesmen scared insane.

. . . especially the exodus . . .

YHWH, were you angry
with the waters of the Nile
and of the Jordan river?
Was the terror of your wrath
vexed with these mere streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you made your angel horsemen
race your chariot throne
[ahead of Pharaoh’s chariots]?
Your bow, unhitched from the cloud,
shot thunderbolt arrows forth.

(Oh I can just imagine!)

You split the desert rock
and a river refreshed our encampment.
Sinai saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by us;
the abyss gave a deep-throated roar,
and raised towering tidal waves.

2. Joshua’s day (v 11-13b)

Even the sun and the moon
stood paralysed in heaven
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at your lightning-flashing spear.
In wrath you paraded on earth.
You . . . came . . . forth
intent on your people’s deliverance,
to rescue your kingdom of priests.

3. Days of the Judges (v 13c-d)

You crushed underfoot
[Field Marshall Sisera
leader of Canaan’s cavalry];
that prince of the realm of evil
you stripped from tip to toe.

(Oh I can just imagine!)

4. All like the exodus visitation (v 14-15)

[‘Be it on his own head!’ –
the wife of gypsy Jael
nailed his skull to his pillow –
as though struck with his own spear!]
as when Pharoah’s cavalry
stormed out of Egypt to scatter us,
gloating as they pounced
out through your Pillar of Cloud –
they snatched at . . . the waves of the sea
which you . . . had . . . trampled
with the hooves of angelic horses,
churning the waters . . . to drown them.

IV. Such Reflection Induces Awe (v 16a-d)

On hearing all these accounts
of your awesome deeds of old
how my heart was pounding,
how my lips tingled and quivered
at these news reports from the war front.
Rot crawled through my marrow,
causing my knees to rattle.

V. Anticipation Inspires Ecstasy (v 16b-19)

In the meantime I await –
patiently self-controlled –
until the day of judgment
upon our foreign invaders.

Even if our fig tree
does not bud this Spring,
and our autumn grape vine
be devoid of fruit,
though our olive crop should fail,
our field produce no grain,
yet I am determined . . . I
in YHWH shall rejoice,
dance in anticipation
of my God’s deliverance.

Whence can I find strength
to hold this attitude?
The Sovereign Lord himself
is my enabling;
he it is can cause
such sure-footedness.
like deer on mountain heights
above this mundane mess.

(Play this on harp and lyre,
conducted by the hand of the Musical Director.)

Notes on Habakkuk’s Psalm

1. Stanza II, line 12: hesed, Hebrew for covenant kindness, love, mercy, favour – grace.
2. Stanza II, lines 15-23: 2 Chronicles 7:14.
3. Stanza III 1, line 2: Teman.
4. Stanza III 1, line 4: Mount Paran lies between Sinai and Edom. See Deuteronomy 33:2 for the source of this reference in the Song of Moses.
5. Stanza III 1, lines 21-22: literally ‘Cushan’ and ‘Midian’ – Arab tribes living near Edom’s frontier with the Promised Land.
6. Stanza III 1, line 33: like the rainbow that God hung up in the clouds after Noah’s Flood.
7. Stanza III 2: Joshua 10.
8. Stanza III 3f: Judges 5.
9. Stanza V, final parenthesis: as always, ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Revelation 19:10). See Hebrews 2:12 in context.

Hugh Thompson (March 21, 2002)

(On a train journey in Poland)

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