Habakkuk 3:17-20

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 30 May 2020


Scripture Text: The Scripture text of this commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison based on the Westminster Leningrad Codex found at BibleHub.com. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Hebraic character of the author and writing. Other Bible versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include the following:

LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C. Online.

Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.

MT: The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism. Work on developing a uniform Hebrew Bible began in the 2nd century under Rabbi Akiva, but completed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century. Online.

Talmud: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. The Jerusalem Talmud, identified with "TJ," may be found here. Click here for Talmud abbreviations.

Targums: The targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary: Targum Jerusalem (1st c. AD), Targum Neofiti (1st c. AD), Targum Onkelos (c. 35–120 AD) and Targum Jonathan (2nd c. AD). See an index of Targum texts here.

Special Terms: In order to emphasize the Hebraic nature of Scripture I use the terms ADONAI (for 'LORD' when quoting a Tanakh source), Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).

Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB" and the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). Parsing information for Hebrew verbs is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (1989). An explanation of Hebrew verbs and grammatical construction can be found at Hebrew4Christians.com.


The Author

Nothing is known for certain about Habakkuk (Heb. Chabaqquq), other than he identified himself as a prophet (Heb. nabi, 1:1; 3:1), a term commonly associated in the Tanakh with men who spoke for God (e.g. Gen 20:7; Ex 7:1; 1Sam 3:20; 2Sam 7:2; 1Kgs 18:36; Jer 1:5). The use of the musical term shigionoth in 3:1 and the closing direction in 3:19 "For the music director on stringed instruments" may suggest that Habakkuk was officially qualified to take part in the liturgical singing of the temple, and therefore belonged to one of the Levitical families.

No mention is made of the ruling monarch as does other "minor prophets" (e.g., Hos 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Zeph 1:1; Hag 1:1; Zech 1:1). The name Chabaqquq is derived from the verb chabaq, which means to clasp or embrace (BDB 287). Gill observes that his character and conduct agree with the meaning of his name since in the most tender manner he embraced the people of God, as parents their children, and comforted them with the assurance of their preservation, notwithstanding their prophesied captivity. He had a passion for the justice of God as reflected in his rhetorical questions of God and complaint about the deprivation of the people of Judah.

The Setting

The book does contain a few clues of the time period. The societal conditions of which Habakkuk complains in 1:2-4 could fit the reigns of Manasseh (Heb. Menashsheh, 697-642 BC) and Jehoiakim (Heb. Yehoyaqim, 608-597 BC). Early Jewish chroniclers favored the former (e.g., Seder Olam Rabbah, Seder Olam) whereas various Christian commentators have favored the latter (e.g., Archer, Armerding, Faussett, Purkiser). Gill makes Habakkuk a contemporary of Jeremiah. The specific complaint of violence in 1:2-3, bloodshed in 2:12 and lewdness in 2:15, would fit best the time of Manasseh, who shed much innocent blood (2Kgs 21:16).

In 1:6 God announced that He was "raising up [Heb. qum, Hiphil ptcp., "arise, stand up"] the Chaldeans" as His avengers against the wickedness in Judah (cf. 2Kgs 21:14; 24:2). The Hiphil stem denotes causing to do something. The prophesied action is not as immediate as it might sound. God would cause the Chaldeans to arise, but they had not yet arisen. The prophecy certainly places Habakkuk before the Battle of Carchemish (606 or 605 BC). In the second chapter God informs Habakkuk the prophecy is for "an appointed time" and says "though it tarries" (2:3). The qualification indicates that while the invasion was certain it was not imminent.

Keil presents a persuasive argument in favor of the time period of Manasseh given that there were only 38 years between the death of Manasseh and the first invasion of the Chaldeans (388). The authors of 2Kings and 2Chronicles expressly related that in the time of Manasseh the Lord's prophets announced the coming of such a calamity, "that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle" (2Kgs 21:12 NASB).

In 2:1 Habakkuk mentions serving as a watchman on a tower of the temple, which both establishes the existence of the temple and membership in the tribe of Levi, perhaps a priest as suggested by Jewish tradition. In 3:2 Habakkuk prays for spiritual revival, a return to Torah standards of justice and morality. It's unthinkable that the prayer of an anointed prophet of ADONAI would go unanswered. That prayer could have received a double answer, first in the spiritual renewal in Manasseh after he was taken captive by the Assyrians (2Chr 33:10-13) and second in the following reign of Josiah (Heb. Yoshiyyah), who cleansed the land of idolatry and returned the nation to obeying Torah (2Kgs 23:1-25).

The Book

The book of Habakkuk consists of three chapters and 56 verses. The book is called in the Latin Vulgate and Syriac versions, "the Prophecy of Habakkuk" (Gill). Habakkuk was unique among the prophets because he did not speak for God to the people but rather spoke to God about his people and nation (Armerding). Habakkuk had a vision of the coming destruction by Babylon (referred to as Chaldeans in the book, 1:6), which ADONAI directed Habakkuk to record for posterity (2:2). The general design of the book is to comfort the people of God under the afflictions that were coming upon them, and to encourage them with the knowledge that God faithful to perform His promises, in the hope and view of the coming of the Messiah. The book contains passages which have been immensely influential in apostolic and in Essene thought.

The book of Habakkuk is really a journal of a long conversation the prophet had with God.

Chapter One: Habakkuk, 1-4; God, 5-11; Habakkuk, 12-17

Chapter Two: Habakkuk, 1; God, 2-19; Habakkuk, 20

Chapter Three Habakkuk, 1-19

In Habakkuk's side of the conversation he asked pointed questions (1:2-3, 12-14, 17) and presents a petition for spiritual revival (3:2).

Usage in the Besekh

Scholars have identified parallels to six verses of Habakkuk in the Besekh (GNT 917), including the following quotations.

In Acts 13:41 Paul quotes from Habakkuk 1:5 in warning his audience to avail themselves of God's mercy.

In Hebrews 10:37 Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:3 about the coming judgment of God.

Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38 to affirm the truth that the righteous will live by the faithfulness of God.

Chapter Three Summary

The final chapter Habakkuk is titled in verse 1 "A Prayer of Habakkuk the Prophet on Shigionoth" after the manner of Psalm 7:1 and directed to the chief musician in verse 19 for composition. It is at once a prayer for spiritual revival (verse 2) and a praise for the majesty and splendor of God as a mighty and delivering warrior (verses 3-7) and a review of God's great works in history on behalf of Israel (verse 8-15). The prayer closes with a commitment to faithfulness in spite of the expected desolation to be brought by the Chaldeans.

In traditional Judaism Habakkuk 2:20–3:19 is the Haftarah reading on the second day the Festival of Shavuot in the Diaspora (Stern 219). The connection with Shavuot appears in the first part of Chapter Three where the language recalls the revelation at Sinai (3:3-4; Ex 19:16; 20:15, 18; Deut 33:2). See the article on Shavuot at Chabad.org.


17 Though the fig tree may not flourish, and no fruit be on the grape-vines; though the labor of the olive tree fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls:

LXX: 17 For though the fig-tree shall not bear fruit, and there shall not be produce on the grapevines; and the work of the olive shall lie, and the plains shall not produce food: and sheep cease from having food, and the oxen shall not exist at the stables." (ABP)

DSS: 17 For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish, nor fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive fails, the fields yield no food; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls: (Wadi Muraba’at Minor Prophets, c. A.D. 135).

Though: Heb. ki, conj. The conjunction connects with the thought in the previous verse of waiting patiently for the prophecy of destruction to be fulfilled. the fig tree: Heb. teenah, a tree that produces the fruit fig. The plant could be either a tall tree or a low-spreading shrub. This was a tree common in the land of Canaan. The common fig in Israel yields two crops annually, the first one, ripen about June, growing from the midsummer sprouts of the previous year. The second crop is ripe about August that grows on the Spring shoots. By December, fig-trees in the mountainous regions of Israel have shed all their leaves, and they remain bare until about the end of March, when they commence putting forth their tender leaf buds.

The fruit of the tree was much in use, especially in making cakes (cf. 1Sam 25:18; 30:12; 2Kgs 20:7; 1Chr 12:40; Isa 38:21). may not: Heb. lo, adv., negative particle. flourish: Heb. parach, Qal impf., to bud, sprout or shoot. In the Qal the verb means "to flourish." Many versions translate the verb as "blossom," which may be misleading since as Gill observes, the tree does not produce flowers. Young figs appear as soon as the old ones are ripe (Clarke). The imperfect tense represents action that is incomplete, and thus the action envisioned is in the future.

and no: Heb. v'ayin, particle of negation with a conjunctive prefix; nothing, nought. fruit: Heb. nebul, produce of the soil; fruit, increase, produce, yield. be on the grape-vines: pl. of Heb. gephen, a grape-bearing vine. though: Heb. ki, conj. the labor: Heb. maaseh, deed, work; here the product of the olive tree. of the olive tree: Heb. zayith, olive tree, olive. fails: Heb. kachash, Piel perf., to disappoint, deceive, fail, grow lean; fail. The perfect tense represents action that is complete.

and the fields: pl. of Heb. v'shedemah, noun with a conjunctive prefix, a plot of ground used for growing a crop; a field. The noun generally refers to a cultivated field. yield: Heb. asah, Qal perf., to do or make; produce, yield. no: Heb. lo. food: Heb. okel, a cereal grain used for food. Even though the fields have growing plants suitable for eating, and even ready to harvest as suggested by Rashi, no one will be present to collect the grain.

though: Heb. ki, conj. the flock: Heb. tson, small cattle, sheep and goats, flock. be cut off: Heb. gazar, Qal perf., to cut or divide, cut off, destroyed. from the fold: Heb. miklaah, an enclosure, fold. Pens were constructed where the flock might be safe all the night from thieves and wild animals. They were enclosures where they had grass or provender to eat. The pen had one larger entrance, which gave ingress and egress to the flock and shepherd; and a little gateway through which lambs could only pass one at a time to be tithed.

and there is no: Heb. v'ayin. The particle is repeated with a conjunctive prefix. herd: Heb. baqar, a collective noun; cattle, herd, an ox. in the stalls: pl. of Heb. repheth, stable or stall. The stall is a resting place for cattle. The noun occurs only here in the Tanakh. All of these items ─ figs, grapes, olives, grain, sheep and oxen ─ were not only staples for living, but for celebrating the appointed times in Jerusalem and presenting first fruits offerings at the sacred worship center (Ex 23:14-19; Lev 23:10-21).

Verse 17 depicts the absolute worst possible disaster that could befall a nation as a result of the invasion of the Chaldeans mentioned in the previous verse. In ancient times invading armies typically ravaged the land to supply the needs of the army. Moreover those who were not killed were taken in captivity as Habakkuk notes about the Chaldeans (1:9, 15). Jeremiah would later prophesy that the land would become desolate without inhabitants (6:8; 9:11; 26:9; 33:10; 34:22). There can be no agricultural production if there are no farmers to do the work. The period of desolation followed the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC, twenty years after the battle of Carchemish (606 BC). Whether Habakkuk lived to personally witness the desolation is not revealed.

Edersheim summarizes the desolation of the Land as a "stillness unto God" (973). The land would be keeping a silent "Sabbath unto God" for a total of seventy years, representing 490 years of neglected Sabbath-years (cf. Lev 26:32-35; 2Chr 36:20-21; Jer 25:11-12; 29:10; Dan 9:2). It's not clear whether the 490 years is consecutive or cumulative. As a consecutive period there was about 490 years from the establishment of the Israelite monarchy to the destruction of Jerusalem. There is no recorded observance in the Tanakh of the seventh year Sabbath, but the benefit of doubt should be extended to the good kings like David who kept the Torah. During the period of the judges (at least 300 years) it is not likely the sabbath-years were honored since everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Jdg 21:25).

18 yet I will triumph in ADONAI. I will rejoice in God, my Salvation!

LXX: 18 yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice over God my deliverer. (ABP)

DSS: 18 yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! (Wadi Muraba’at Minor Prophets, c. A.D. 135).

yet I: Heb. v'ani, first person pronoun. The conjunction prefix indicates a contrasting response to the conditions described in the preceding verse. will triumph: Heb. aluz, Qal impf. cohortative, to exult, be joyful, rejoice, triumph. The cohortative mood of the verb can indicate a request or resolve, here the latter (Ross 151). The verb indicates an emotional response. in ADONAI: Heb. YHVH, (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey), the tetragrammaton of the God of Israel, referred to in traditional Judaism as Hashem (OJB, JPS, TIB, "the Name") and in Messianic Judaism as ADONAI (small caps, CJB, TLV). The sacred name dominates in the Tanakh, first occurring in Genesis 2:4. Although often translated as "God," YHVH is not a title or a word for a deity but the personal name of the God of Israel (BDB 217; Ex 3:15; 2Chr 14:11; Isa 42:8).

In the LXX the title Kurios substitutes for the sacred name. Kurios means one in control through possession and may be rendered as lord, master or owner. Thus, the LXX translators chose kurios to emphasize the authority of YHVH over His people. The overwhelming use of kurios for the sacred name was not an immediate development. The oldest LXX MSS (fragments) have YHVH written in Hebrew characters in the Greek text. The use of kurios for the sacred name is also found in post-Tanakh Jewish literature, such as Wisdom of Solomon (27 times), and frequently in Philo and Josephus (DNTT 2:511-512).

Christian Bible versions generally translate YHVH with "the LORD," although the MSG has simply "God." Three versions have the archaic translation "Jehovah" (ASV, Darby, YLT), and a few other versions have "Yahweh" (HCSB, LEB, NOG and WEB). The common English rendering of YHVH is no better than a guess. See my article The Blessed Name for more discussion on this subject.

I will rejoice: Heb. gil ("gheel"), Qal impf. cohortative, to rejoice. The verb indicates a verbal response. The Targum has veana bemeimra dayai abua, "But in the Word of the Lord will I rejoice," i.e., the personal, substantial Word of ADONAI (Clarke). Morris observes that in view of God's glorious promises for the future, however, there is always cause for rejoicing in the Lord. in God: Heb. Elohim, masc. pl. construct with a prepositional suffix. As with YHVH, Elohim does not have the definite article. Scripture is clear that Elohim is YHVH (Deut 4:35, 39; 7:9; 1Kgs 8:60; 18:39). As the first usage in the Bible indicates Elohim is the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe (Gen 1:1).

In the LXX the plural Elohim is rendered with the singular Grk. ho theos, God. The LXX never employs the plural theoi ("gods") to translate Elohim. Indeed the presence of the definite article would signify "the only." The use of the singular theos to translate the plural Elohim affirmed the unity of God and at the same time did not deny a plural of persons in the divine nature (Zodhiates 730).

my Salvation: Heb. yesha, noun–masc. 1p-sing. construct, deliverance, rescue, salvation, safety, welfare. The noun typically denotes a physical rescue with an added spiritual idea. Yesha is part of the word group from which the name "Yeshua" is derived and whose name means "salvation." The LXX translates yesha with mou sōtēri, "my deliverer." The majority of Bible versions translate the noun as "of my salvation," because in the LXX mou is genitive case. The noun represents both a personification of Elohim and Habakkuk's personal dependence on Elohim for deliverance. Some versions follow the LXX with "my Savior" (ERV, EXB, GNB, MSG, NIV, NIRV). The noun occurs three times in this chapter, two times in verse 13 above where it is used of the salvation of the people of Israel and the salvation of God's Anointed One. Here Habakkuk personalizes God's salvation for himself.

19 ADONAI, the Lord, is my strength. And He will make my feet like a deer, and will make me to walk on high places. For the music director, on stringed instruments.

LXX: 19 The Lord God is my power, and he will arrange my feet unto completion; he upon the high places he shall set me, for me to overcome by his ode." (ABP)

DSS: 19 Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like deer's feet, and enables me to go in high places. For the music director, on my stringed instruments." (Wadi Muraba’at Minor Prophets, c. A.D. 135).

ADONAI: Heb. YHVH. See the previous verse. The LXX has kurios. Almost all Christian versions translate the name as "God," but some have the archaic "Jehovah" (ASV, Darby, LITV, RV, YLT) and some have "Yahweh" (HCSB, LEB, NOG, NJB, REV, WEB). the Lord: Heb. Adonai (the emphatic form of adôn, "lord, master"), a title of God. The LXX has Ho Theos, God, the Creator and owner of all things. Some versions translate the two nouns together as LORD God (AMP, CEB, DRA, ISV, KJV), and some have GOD, the Lord (ESV, NABRE, NRSV, RSV). The CJB has "Elohim Adonai," the OJB has "Hashem Adonoi" and the TLV has "ADONAI, my Lord." Habakkuk affirms that the God of Israel is his master, his boss, in all things.

is my Strength: Heb. chayil, noun–masc. 1p-sing. construct, may mean strength, efficiency, wealth, or army. The LXX has Grk. dunamis. Habakkuk knows that he is not alone to face adverse circumstances. The concept of YHVH being one's strength occurs first in the psalm of David (Ps 18:1; and Ps 28:7), although these passages use a different word for "strength," Heb. chezek in the former and Heb. oz in the latter. The descriptor of chayil is applied to YHVH in one other passage: Psalm 118:15-16. The descriptor affirms that God gives Habakkuk the courage or resolve to face the future and have the strength of character to remain faithful.

And He will make: Heb. sum, Qal Consecutive Impf., 3p-ms, to put, set, place or make. The LXX has Grk. tassō, to arrange or assign. my feet: pl. of Heb. regel, the body part used for walking, foot. like a deer: Heb. ayyalah, a hind or doe. LXX has eis sunteleia, into completion, consummation, the end. The Hebrew imagery refers to the surefootedness of the deer, so that God will keep Habakkuk from falling into sin. The comparison can also allude to swiftness of foot, which was one of the qualifications of a warrior to be able to make a sudden attack on the enemy and pursue him vigorously (2Sam 1:23; 22:34-38; 1Chr 12:8).

and will make me to walk: Heb. darak, Hiphil impf., tread, march, walk. The Hiphil stem denotes causative action and the imperfect tense is future oriented. on my high places: pl. of Heb. bamah, a high place, a mountain. In the Tanakh a "high place" is often presented as a place of worship. This clause appears to be a quotation from Psalm 18:33, "He makes my feet like hinds' feet, and sets me upon my high places." "High places" often has a negative connotation in the Tanakh as places of idolatry (Lev 16:30), but Habakkuk uses the term in a positive sense of drawing close to God. The "high places" could be a specific allusion to the tower where he stood guard (2:1).

Keil says the expression of causing to walk upon the high places of the land was originally a figure denoting the victorious possession and government of a country (cf. Deut 32:13; 33:29), from which David applied the figure in Psalm 18 and altered the "high places of the earth" in "my high places." For Habakkuk the figure would denote generally the ultimate triumph of God's people over all oppression. Clarke suggests the expectation could anticipate the future restoration of God's people after exile. Here it signifies that believing Israel shall overcome all opposition and dwell in safety in its own land.

For the music director: Heb. natsach, preeminent or enduring, Piel participle, thus identifying one who acts as overseer, superintendent, or director. Used as a title the participle appears frequently in Chronicles and Psalms. The office of chief musician alludes to the overseer of the Levitical choirs established by King David (1Chr 15:16). These last words are not part of the prayer of this chapter but a subscription corresponding to the superscription in verse 1 above.

on stringed instruments: pl. of Heb. neginah, music of a stringed instrument. The noun means such as were struck with a plectrum, or excited by some kind of friction or pulsation; as violins and cymbals or tambourines are (Clarke). This last instruction is not part of Habakkuk's prayer but direction for the conversion of the prayer into a musical composition. Clarke suggests that when the prophet had completed his short ode, he folded it up, with the above direction to the master singer, or leader of the choir, to be sung in the temple service. Similar instructions can be found in 55 psalms (e.g., Psalm 4:1; 5:1; 6:1; 9:1; 18:1).

Works Cited

Archer: Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Rev. ed. Moody Bible Institute, 2007.

Armerding: Carl E. Armerding, Habakkuk. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999.

BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.

DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament (1876-1887), Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995. Also online.

Faussett: A.R. Faussett, Habakkuk, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871) by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Online.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

Ginzberg: Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews. Public Domain, 1909.

GNT: The Greek New Testament, eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, & Allen Wiegren. American Bible Society, 1966. [NA25]

Keil: C.F. Keil, The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, Commentary on the Old Testament (1866-1891) by C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch. Vol. 10. Hendrickson, 2006. Online.

Morris: Henry Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.

Owens: John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament. 4 vols. Baker Book House, 1989.

Purkiser: W.T. Purkiser, ed. Exploring the Old Testament. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1955.

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (1040-1105), Commentary on the Tanakh. Online.

Ross: Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew. Baker Academic, 2001.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

Zodhiates: Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009), ed. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. AMG Publishers, 1992, 1993.

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