The different interventions of God in the past reveal insights into His coming in the future. That was true for Habakkuk, and it is true for God’s people today.
The prophet had struggled with what was happening in his day, even to the point of questioning God. Finally, he reached a place of submission to God and acceptance of His will. In Habakkuk 3:3-7, he was given a vision of God executing His will on earth — for His people, and for the ungodly.
In verse 3, God is described as the Holy One. Habakkuk wrote that God was coming from Teman and Mount Paran. This has caused some confusion for some, but it shouldn’t. Teman means “south wind,” and Paran means “a place of caverns.” Teman likely represents the area of Edom, and Paran probably represents the mountainous area southwest of Judah. What does it mean? It is like the steps of Israel are retraced, as God led the nation into the possession of the land He had promised them. O. Palmer Robertson says, “The two locales (Teman and Paran) are roughly the boundaries of the journey of Israel.”
Warren Wiersbe states: “In this song, Habakkuk seems to be retracing the march of Israel from Sinai to the Promised Land. Everything about this stanza reveals the glory of God.” Kyle Yates makes essentially the same observation in a different way: “After a fervent prayer, the prophet is rewarded with an appearance of God Himself. Through all the years, God has been faithful and has responded to the cry for help that came from His followers.” In Habakkuk’s context, judgment was coming, but with it came God’s mercy.
Verse 4 is a beautiful way of expressing a profound thought that every believer should remember: God is all-powerful, but He does not show all His power. He is all-knowing, but He does not reveal all His knowledge. A child of God may be in difficult circumstances, and God comes in deliverance for him or her. However, God may not deliver His child out of the difficulty but provide strength to live with the difficulty. God has more than enough power to do whatever we need, but He also has the wisdom to do what He knows is best for us.
Verse 5 seems to reach back to Egypt, where God revealed some of His power in the plagues. Some of His power was extended in the dividing of the Red Sea and the parting of the Jordan River.
The Lord arrives in verse 6. As a preacher once said, “God does not come to take sides, but to take over.” He surveyed or measured the earth as He executed His right of ownership. The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. Robertson writes: “His pattern of activity has been consistent throughout the ages. Without partiality He appears at the right time to establish justice in all the earth. He sees, He measures, He comes to enforce His sovereign will.” He disciplined Judah for her sin and disobedience and then destroyed Babylon, the nation He used to chastise His people.
Jesus Christ will return one day, and when He does, the description is similar. Revelation 1:7 says: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.” Second Peter 3:10 reminds us of what happens at His second coming: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
In verse 7, nations that Israel confronted in the past are mentioned: Cush and Midian. Cush-Rishathaim (Judges 3) was sent by God to punish Israel. The Lord ultimately came to provide relief for His people. In Habakkuk’s day, Babylon was sent to punish Judah, but God ultimately restored His people. The language reflects Habakkuk’s experience. He had come to accept the reality of coming judgment, but he did not lose hope that a believing remnant would survive. He knew the truth, as do we: “The just shall live by faith.”