(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 10)
... Continued from Part 9

Lecture One Hundred and Fifteenth. 
Habakkuk 3:2 
O LORD, I have heard thy speech, [and] was afraid: O LORD, revive 
thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make 
known; in wrath remember mercy. 
    The Prophet says here, in the name of the whole people, that he 
was terrified by the voice of God, for so I understand the word, 
though in many places it means report, as some also explain it in 
this place. But as the preaching of the Gospel is called in Isa. 53 
"shemu'ah", report, it seems to me more suitable to the present 
passage to render it the voice of God; for the general sentiment, 
that the faithful were terrified at the report of God, would be 
frigid. It ought rather to be applied to the Prophecies which have 
been already explained: and doubtless Habakkuk did not intend here 
to speak only in general of God's power; but, as we have seen in the 
last lecture, he humbly confesses the sins of the people, and then 
prays for forgiveness. It is then not to be doubted but that he says 
here, that he was terrified by the voice of God, that is, when he 
heard him threatening punishment so grievous. He then adds, Revive 
thy work in the middle of the years, and make it known. At last, by 
way of anticipation, he subjoins, that God would remember his mercy, 
though justly offended by the sins of the people. 
    But by saying, that he feared the voice of God, he makes a 
confession, or gives an evidence of repentance; for we cannot from 
the heart seek pardon, unless we be first made humble. When a sinner 
is not displeased with himself, and confesses not his guilt, he is 
not deserving of mercy. We then see why the Prophet speaks here of 
fear; and that is, that he might thus obtain for himself and for 
others the favour of God; for as soon as a sinner willingly condemns 
himself, and does not do this formally, but seriously from the 
heart, he is already reconciled to God; for God bids us in this way 
to anticipate his judgement. This is one thing. But if it be asked, 
for what purpose the Prophet heard God's voice; the obvious answer 
is, - that as it is not the private prayer of one person, but of the 
whole Church, he prescribes here to the faithful the way by which 
they were to obtain favour from God, and turn him to mercy; and that 
is, by dreading his threatening and by acknowledging that whatever 
God threatened by his Prophets was near at hand. 
    Then follows the second clause, Jehovah! in the middle of the 
years revive thy work. By the work of God he means the condition of 
his people or of the Church. For though God is the creator of heaven 
and earth, he would yet have his own Church to be acknowledged to 
be, as it were, his peculiar workmanship, and a special monument of 
his power, wisdom, justice, and goodness. Hence, by way of eminence, 
he calls here the condition of the elect people the work of God; for 
the seed of Abraham was not only a part of the human race, but was 
the holy and peculiar possession of God. Since, then, the Israelites 
were set apart by the Lord, they are rightly called his work; as we 
read in another place, "The work of thine hands thou wilt not 
despise," Ps. 138: 8. And God often says, "This is my planting," 
"This is the work of my hands," when he speaks of his Church. 
    By the middle of the years, he means the middle course, as it 
were, of the people's life. For from the time when God chose the 
race of Abraham to the coming of Christ, was the whole course, as it 
were, of their life, when we compare the people to a man; for the 
fulness of their age was at the coming of Christ. If, then, that 
people had been destroyed, it would have been the same as though 
death were to snatch away a person in the flower of his age. Hence 
the Prophet prays God not to take away the life of his people in the 
middle of their course; for Christ having not come, the people had 
not attained maturity, nor arrived at manhood. In the middle, then, 
of the years thy work revive; that is, "Though we seem destined to 
death, yet restore us." Make it known, he says, in the middle of the 
years; that is, "Show it to be in reality thy work." 
    We now apprehend the real meaning of the Prophet. After having 
confessed that the Israelites justly trembled at Cod's voice, as 
they saw themselves deservedly given up to perdition, he then 
appeals to the mercy of God, and prays God to revive his own work. 
He brings forward here nothing but the favour of adoption: thus he 
confesses that there was no reason why God should forgive his 
people, except that he had been pleased freely to adopt them, and to 
choose them as his peculiar people; for on this account it is that 
God is wont to show his favour towards us even to the last. as, 
then, this people had been once chosen by God, the Prophet records 
this adoptions, and prays God to continue and fulfil to the end what 
he had begun. With regard to the half course of life, the comparison 
ought to be observed; for we see that the race of Abraham was not 
chosen for a short time, but until Christ the Redeemer was 
manifested. Now we have this in common with the ancient people, that 
God adopts us, that he may at length bring us into the inheritance 
of eternal life. Until, then, the work of our salvation is 
completed, we are, as it were, running our course. We may therefore 
adopt this form of prayer, which is prescribed for us by the Holy 
Spirit, - that God would not forsake his ohm work; in the middle of 
our course. 
    What he now subjoins - in wrath remember mercy, is intended to 
anticipate an objection; for this thought might have occurred to the 
faithful - "there is no ground for us to hope pardon from God, whom 
we have so grievously provoked, nor is there any reason for us to 
rely any more on the covenant which we have so perfidiously 
violated." The Prophet meets this objection, and he flees to the 
gracious favour of God, however much he perceived that the people 
would have to suffer the just punishment of their sins, such as they 
deserved. He then confesses that God was justly angry with his 
people, and yet that the hope of salvation was not on that account 
closed up, for the Lord had promised to be propitious. Since God 
then is not inexorable towards his people - nay, while he chastises 
them he ceases not to be a father; hence the Prophet connects here 
the mercy of God with his wrath. 
    We have elsewhere said that the word wrath is not to be taken 
according to its strict sense, when the faithful or the elect are 
spoken of; for God does not chastise them because he hates them; 
nay, on the contrary, he thereby manifests the care he has for their 
salvations. Hence the scourges by which God chastises his children 
are testimonies of his love. But the Scripture represents the 
judgement with which God visits his people as wrath, not towards 
their persons but towards their sins. Though then God shows love to 
his chosen, yet he testifies when he punishes their sins that 
iniquity is hated by him. When God then comes forth as it were as a 
judge, and shows that sins displease him, he is said to be angry 
with the faithful; and there is also in this a reference to the 
perceptions of men; for we cannot, when God chastises us, do 
otherwise than feel the accusations of our own conscience. Hence 
then is this hatred; for when our conscience condemns us we must 
necessarily acknowledge God to be angry with us, that is with 
respect to us. When therefore we provoke God's wrath by our sins we 
feel him to be angry with us; but yet the Prophet collects together 
things which seem wholly contrary - even that God would remember 
mercy in wrath; that is, that he would show himself displeased with 
them in such a way as to afford to the faithful at the same time 
some taste of his favour and mercy by finding him to be propitious 
to them. 
    We now then perceive how the Prophet had joined the last clause 
to the foregoing. Whenever, then, the judgement of the flesh would 
lead us to despair, let us ever set up against it this truth - that 
God is in such a way angry that he never forgets his mercy - that 
is, in his dealings with his elect. It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:3 
God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His 
glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. 
    This verse interpreters explain in two ways. Some construe the 
verb in the future tense in the past time - "God went forth from 
Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran;" for a verb in the past 
tense follows. But others consider it to be in the optative mood - 
"May God come, or go forth, from Teman, and the holy one from mount 
Paran;" as though the Prophet prayed God to come as the defender of 
his people from mount Sinai, where the law was promulgated and the 
covenant ratified, which God had formerly made with Abraham and his 
posterity. I rather subscribe to their opinion who think that the 
manifestation of God, by which he had testified that he was the 
guardian of that people, is repeated by the Prophet. As, then, God 
had so made known his glory on mount Sinai, that it was evident that 
that nation was under his protection, so the Prophet, with the view 
of strengthening himself and others, records what was well known 
among the whole people - that is, that the law was given on mount 
Sinai, which was a testimony of singular favour; for God then by a 
new pledge testified, that the covenant formerly made with Abraham 
was firm and inviolable. The reason why Habakkuk does not mention 
mount Sinai, but Teman and Paran, seems to some to be this - because 
these mountains were nearer the Holy Land, though this view, I fear, 
will appear too refined; I therefore take this simple view - that 
instead of mentioning mount Sinai, he paraphrastically designates it 
by mount Paran and the desert of Teman. Some suppose these to be two 
mountains; but I know not whether Teman ought to be understood only 
as a mountain; it seems on the contrary to have been some large 
tract of country. It was a common thing among the Jews to add this 
name when they spoke of the south, as many nations were wont to give 
to winds the names of some neighbouring places; so when the Jews 
wished to designate a wind from Africa, they called it Teman. "It is 
a Teman wind;" and so when they spoke of the south, they said Teman. 
    However this may be, it is certain that the desert of Teman was 
nigh to Sinai, and also that mount Paran was connected with that 
desert. As then they were places towards the south, and nigh to 
mount Sinai, where the law had been proclaimed, the Prophet records 
here, in order to strengthen the faith of the whole people, that God 
had not in vain gone forth once from Teman, and there appeared in 
his celestial power; for God then openly showed, that he took under 
his guardianship the children of Abraham, and that the covenant 
which he had formerly made with him was not vain or of no effect. 
Since, then, God had testified this in so remarkable and wonderful a 
manner, the Prophet brings forward here that history which tended 
especially to confirm the faith of the godly - "God went forth once 
from Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran." 
    For it was not God's will that the memory of that manifestation 
should be obliterated; but he had once appeared with glory so 
magnificent, that the people might feel assured that they would ever 
be safe, for they were protected by God's hand, and that full of 
power, as the fathers had once known by manifest and visible 
evidences; and hence the Prophet represents God's going forth from 
mount Paran as a continued act, as though he rendered himself 
visible chiefly from that place. Nor is this representation new; for 
we see, in many other places, a living picture, as it were, set 
before the eyes of the faithful, in order to strengthen them in 
their adversity, and to make them assured that they shall be safe 
through God's presence. The Lord, indeed, did not daily fulminate 
from heaven, nor were there such visible indications of his presence 
as on mount Sinai; but it behaved the people to feel assured that he 
was the same God who had given to their fathers such clear evidence 
of his power, and that he is also at this time, and to the end of 
the world, endued with the same power, though it be not rendered 
    We now then apprehend the design of the Prophet: God then came 
from Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran. We must also observe, 
that the minds of the godly were recalled to the spectacle on mount 
Sinai, when they were drawn away into exile, or when they were in 
the power of their enemies. They might indeed have then supposed, 
that they were wholly forsaken. Obliterated then must have been the 
memory of that history, had not this remedy been introduced. It is, 
therefore, the same as though the Prophet had said - "Though God now 
hides his power, and gives no evidence of his favour, yet think not 
that he formerly appeared in vain to your fathers as one clothed 
with so great a power, when the law was proclaimed on mount Sinai. 
It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:4 
And [his] brightness was as the light; he had horns [coming] out of 
his hand: and there [was] the hiding of his power. 
    He confirms the declaration which I have explained that God, 
when he intended his presence to be made known to his people, gave 
evidences of his wonderful power, capable of awakening the minds of 
all. He then says, that the brightness was like light. By the word 
"'or" is doubtless meant the light, which diffuses itself through 
the whole world, and proceeds from the sun. Then he says, that the 
brightness which appeared on mount Sinai was equal to the light of 
the sun, capable of filling the whole world. He adds, that horns 
were to him from the hand. Some render it, splendour; but "keren" 
properly means a horn, and "keranayim" is here in the dual number: 
it is therefore more probable, that the Prophet ascribes horns to 
God, carried in both hands; and it more corresponds with what 
immediately follows, that "there was the hiding of his strength," or 
that "there was his power hidden." They who render the word, 
splendours, think that what had been said is repeated, that is, that 
the brightness was like light; but they are mistaken, for we may 
collect from the verse that two different things are expressed by 
the Prophet: he first speaks of the visible form of God; and then he 
adds his power, designating it metaphorically by horns, which is 
common in Scripture. Indeed this mode of speaking occurs often. He 
then says, that God came armed with power, when he gave the law to 
his people; for he bore horns in his hands, where his strength was 
    As to the word hidings, some indeed give this refined view, 
that God then put forth his strength, which was before hidden. But 
this is a very strained explanation. To me it seems evident, that 
the Prophet in the first place says, that God's glory was 
conspicuous, capable of irradiating the whole world like the light 
of the sun; and he then adds, that this splendour was connected with 
power, for God carried horns in both his hands, where his strength 
was laid: and he says, that it was hid, because God did not intend 
to make known his power indiscriminately throughout the world, but 
peculiarly to his own people; as it is also said in Ps. 31: 20, that 
"the greatness of his goodness is laid up for the faithful alone, 
who fear and reverence him." As then it is said, that the goodness 
of God is laid up for the faithful, for they enjoy it as children 
and members of the household; so also the power of God is said to be 
laid up, because he testifies that he is armed with power to defend 
his Church, that he may render safe the children of Abraham, whom he 
has taken under his protection. It afterwards follows - 
Habakkuk 3:5 
Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his 
    The Prophet repeats here, that God came armed to defend his 
people, when he went forth from Teman; for he connects with it here 
the deliverance of the people. He does not indeed speak only of the 
promulgation of the law, but encourages all the godly to confidence; 
for God, who had once redeemed their fathers from Egypt, remained 
ever like himself, and was endued with the same power. 
    And he says, that before God's face walked the pestilence; this 
is to be referred to the Egyptians; and that ignited coal proceeded 
from his feet. Some render "reshef" exile; but its etymology 
requires it to be rendered burning or ignited coal, and there is no 
necessity to give it another meaning. 
    The import of the whole is - that Cod had put to flight all the 
enemies of his people; for we know that the Egyptians were smitten 
with various plagues, and that the army of Pharaoh was drowned in 
the Red Sea. Hence, the Prophet says, that God had so appeared from 
Teman, that the pestilence went before him, and then the ignited 
coal; in short, that the pestilence and ignited coal were God's 
officers, which were ready to perform his commands: as when a king 
or a judge, having attendants, commands them to put this man in 
prison, and to punish another in a different way; so the Prophet, 
giving us a representation of God, says, that all kinds of evils 
were ready to obey his orders, and to destroy his and their enemies. 
He does not then intend here to terrify the faithful in mentioning 
the pestilence and the ignited coal; but, on the contrary, to set 
before their eyes evidences of God's power, by which he could 
deliver them from the hand of their enemies, as he had formerly 
delivered their fathers from Egypt. By God's feet, he then means his 
going forth or his presence; for I do not approve of what some have 
said, that ignited coals followed, when pestilence had preceded; for 
both clauses are given in the same way. It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:6 
He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the 
nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual 
hills did bow: his ways [are] everlasting. 
    He says that God possessed every power to subdue the earth to 
himself, and that he could at his will destroy it, yea, dissolve 
mountains as veil as nations. Some of the Jews understood this of 
the ark, which stood at that time in Gilead. They then suppose that 
the Prophet meant this in short - that when God chose a place for 
the ark of the covenant in Gilgal, that he determined then what he 
would do, and that he then in his secret counsel divided the land, 
so that each should have his portion by lot. This, it is true, was 
accomplished shortly after, for Joshua, as we know, divided it by 
lot between the tribes. But what the Jews affirm of the ark seems to 
me strained and frigid. Habakkuk, on the contrary, means by the word 
stand, that God was openly conspicuous, like him who assumes an 
erect posture, so that he is seen at a distance. In this sense we 
are to take the expression that God stood. 
    The measuring, of the earth is not to be confined to Judea, but 
is to be extended to the whole world. God, he says, has measured the 
earth. To measure the earth is what properly belongs to a sovereign 
king; and it is done that he may assign to each his portion. Except 
God, then, had a sovereign right over the earth and the whole world, 
Habakkuk would not have ascribed to him this office; and this we 
learn from the verse itself, for he immediately subjoins, that the 
nations, as it were, melted away, that the mountains were destroyed, 
that the hills were bowed down. 
    We hence see that by earth we are not to understand Judea only, 
but the whole world; as though he had said, that when God appeared 
on mount Sinai, he made it fully evident that the earth was under 
his power and authority, so that he could determine whatever he 
pleased, and prescribe limits to all nations. For he does not speak 
of God here as having, like a surveyor, a measuring line; but he 
says, that he measured the earth as one capable even then of 
changing the boundaries of the whole world; nay, he intimates that 
it was he himself who had at first created the earth and assigned it 
to men. It is indeed true that the nations did not then melt away, 
nor were the mountains demolished, nor the hills bowed down; but the 
Prophet simply means, that God's power then appeared, which was 
capable of shaking the whole world. 
    But he calls these the mountains of eternity and the hills 
ages, which had been from the beginning fixed on their own 
foundations. For if an earthquake happens on a plain, it seems less 
wonderful; and then if any of those mountains cleave, which are not 
so firmly fixed, it may be on account of some hollow places; for 
when the winds fill the caverns, they are forced to burst, and they 
cleave the mountains and the earth. But the Prophet relates an 
unusual thing, and wholly different from the ordinary course of 
nature - that the mountains of eternity, which had been from the 
beginning, and had remained without any change, were thus demolished 
and bowed down. In short, the Prophet intended by all means to raise 
up to confidence the minds of the godly, so that they should become 
fully persuaded that God's power to deliver them would be the same 
as that which their fathers had formerly experienced; for there is 
no other support under adverse, and especially under despairing 
circumstances, than that the faithful should know that they are 
still under the protection of that God who has adopted them. This is 
the reason why the Prophet amplifies, in so striking a manner, on 
the subject of God's power. 
    And hence also he subjoins, that the ways of ages are those of 
God. Some render the clause, "the ways of the world." The word 
"olam" however, means properly an age, or perpetual time. The 
Prophet, I have no doubt, means by ways of ages, the wonderful means 
which God is wont to adopt for the defence of his Church; for we are 
ever wont to reduce God's wonder to our own understanding, while it 
is his purpose to perfect, in a manner that is wonderful, the work 
of our salvation. Hence the Prophet bids the faithful here to raise 
upwards their thoughts, and to conceive something greater of God's 
power than what they can naturally comprehend. If we take the ways 
of eternity in this sense, then they are to be understood as in 
opposition to those means which are known and usual. They are his 
daily ways, when the sun rises and sets, when the spring succeeds 
the winter, when the earth produces fruit; though even these are so 
many miracles, yet they are his common ways. But God has ways of 
eternity that is he has means unknown to us by which he can deliver 
us from death, whenever it may please him. 
    But yet, if any prefer taking the ways of eternity as 
signifying the continued power of God, which has ever appeared from 
the beginning, the sense would be appropriate and not less useful: 
for it especially avails to confirm our faith, when we consider that 
God's power has ever been the same from the creation of heaven and 
earth, that it has never been lessened or undergone any change. 
Since, then, God has successively manifested his power through all 
ages, we ought hence to learn that we have no reason to despair, 
though he may for a time conceal his hand; for he is not on that 
account deprived of his right. He ever retains the sovereignty of 
the world. We ought, then, to be attentive to the ways of ages, that 
is, to the demonstration of that power, which was manifested in the 
creation of the world, and still continues to be manifested. It 
follows - 
Habakkuk 3:7 
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: [and] the curtains of the 
land of Midian did tremble. 
    The Prophet relates here, no doubt, whatever might bring 
comfort to the miserable Jews, as they thought themselves rejected 
and in a manner alienated from God. Hence the Prophet mentions here 
other deliverances, which were clear evidences of God's constant 
favour towards his chosen people. He had hitherto spoken of their 
redemption, and he will presently return to the same subject: but he 
introduces here other histories; as though he had said, that it was 
not only at one time that God had testified how much he loved the 
race of Abraham, and how inviolable was the covenant he had made; 
but that he had given the same testimonies at various times: for as 
he had also defended his people against other enemies, the 
conclusion was obvious, that God's hand was thus made manifest, that 
the children of Abraham might know that they were not deceived, when 
they were adopted by him. 
    Hence Habakkuk mentions the tents of Cushan as another evidence 
of God's power in preserving his people, and the curtains of Midian; 
for we know how wonderful was the work, when the Jews were delivered 
by the hand of Gideon; and the same was the case with respect to the 
king of Chosen. 
    We now, then, understand the design of the Prophet: for as he 
knew that the time was near when the Jews might succumb to despair 
in their great adversities, he reminds them of the evidences of 
God's favour and power, which had been given to their fathers, that 
they might entertain firm hope in time to come, and be fully 
persuaded that God would be their deliverer, as he had been formerly 
to their fathers. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we have a continual contest with 
powerful enemies, we may know that we are defended by thine hand, 
and that even thou art fighting for us when we are at rest; so that 
we may boldly contend under thy protection, and never be wearied, 
nor yield to Satan and the wicked, or to any temptations; but firmly 
proceed in the course of our warfare: and however much thou mayest 
often humble us, so as to make us to tremble under thine awful 
judgement, may we yet never cease to entertain firm hope, since thou 
hast once promised to be to us an eternal Father in thine eternal 
and only-begotten Son, but being confirmed by the invincible 
constancy of faith, may we so submit ourselves to thee, as to bear 
all our afflictions patiently, till thou gatherest us at length into 
that blessed rest, which has been procured for us by the blood of 
thine own Son. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 11...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-10.txt