Habakkuk – Chapter 3 – Minor Prophets By Rabbi Gail Diamond

Reading Exercise

Read over chapter 3 in Hebrew if possible and in your native language.

  1. What words indicate that this is a song?
  2. What words refer to water? What words refer to other parts of nature?
  3. What words and Hebrew roots repeat?


Some scholars believe that the first and last verses of the chapter indicate that the song was not an integral part of the original text of Habakkuk. Pesher Habakkuk, a text interpreting Habakkuk from Qumran, does not include chapter 3. Consider the two quotations below. Do you see a connection between chapter 3 and the first two chapters?

Chapter 3 begins and ends with rubrics similar to those found in the Psalms, and, at three points in the text, the as yet unexplained rubric selah occurs (vs. 3, 9, 13). Much of the chapter is marked by archaic poetry that differs stylistically from the poetry of the rest of the book, and the chapter is not included in the Qumran commentary on Habakkuk. These considerations have led a number of scholars to regard the chapter as an independent composition that has been secondarily attached to the book of Habakkuk, but the arguments remain unpersuasive. The absence of the chapter in the Qumran commentary may have many explanations, but it is extremely doubtful that it bears witness to a Hebrew manuscript tradition lacking the chapter….The superscription, subscription, and musical rubrics do suggest that this chapter was at some point used in worship…but just as the headings and rubrics in the Psalms are generally regarded as later additions to the text, so they should be regarded in the case of Habakkuk. They were presumably added when the text came to be used in communal worship…Once the rubrics are removed as secondary insertions, the text actually begins in v. 2, which fits very well after 2:20.

J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: A Commentary (Louisville, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991) p. 148

חבקוק חבר את המזמור לא כתפילה פרטית בלבד, אלא גם מתוך כוונה שילמדו בני יהודה לשיר אותו, כדי שתתחזק בלבם האמונה שנצחון הכשדים אינו אלא לשעה, וסוף תבוסתם לבוא, לפיכך הורה חבקוק למנצח כיצד לשיר את המזמור וכיצד לנגן את מנגינתו.

מנחם בולה, דעת מקרא, עמ’ 30.

Habakkuk composed the song not only as a private prayer, but with the intention that Judeans would learn to sing it in order to strengthen in their hearts the faith that the victory of the Babylonians (Chaldeans) was only for an hour, and that in the end they would be vanquished. Therefore, Habakkuk instructed the choirmaster how to sing the song and how to play its melody.

Menachem Bula, Daat Mikra commentary, page 30 (my translation).

Biblical References

To better understand this poem, consider these parallels:

  1. Poems and texts about water Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 104:1-9; Psalm 93; Exodus 15:1-21
  2. Poems about G-d appearing from the south Isaiah 63:1-6; Deuteronomy 33:2; Judges 5:4; Zechariah 9:14 (see Hebrew).
  3. Poems about G-d and light 2 Samuel 22:8-16 (with parallel in Psalm 18); Isaiah 60:1-3, 19

Consider these parallels and our poem in light of these words by Jon Levenson from his book Sinai and Zion:

In this book I shall use the term myth to refer to a cast of mind that views certain symbols in terms of an act of unlimited scope and import that occurred, in Brevard Childs words, in a timeless age of the past. It was in that age that the foundation of the world occurred, writes Mircea Eliade, an age that precedes even the creation of time as we know it if such temporal terms can be invoked to describe a situation in which ordinary temporality did not obtain…Mythic symbols are thought to be by their very nature invulnerable to obsolescence. On the contrary, they are more “real” than the flux and change of history. (p. 103)

Conclusion and Theological Message:

  1. What do you consider to be the religious message of this poem? What do you think of verses 16-19 as a conclusion to the book of Habakkuk?
  2. Some scholars think verse 17 may be an addition. What does it add to the text in your opinion?
  3. On Verse 19 see Deuteronomy 33:29. Why do you think Habakkuk chose to end his song and book so similarly to that verse?

Video Conclusion To Habbakuk