Grace Theological Journal 8.2 (1987) 163-94.
[Copyright © 1987 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK
RICHARD D. PATTERSON
Thematically, textually, and literarily, the psalm of Habakkuk
(3:3 -15) differs markedly from the material in the rest of the book.
Translation and subsequent analysis of the psalm reveal that it is a
remnant of epic literature, and as such it focuses on the theme of the
heroic. Throughout the passage, God is the hero whose actions divide
the psalm into two parts. The first poem (vv 3-7) relates the account
of an epic journey as God guides his people toward the land of
promise. In the second poem (vv 8-15), God's miraculous acts in the
conquest period are rehearsed. The singing of these two epic songs
was designed to evoke in the listeners a response of submission to
the proper movement toward
* * *
AN enigmatic psalm of praise occupies the greater portion of the
third chapter of Habakkuk's prophecyl and exhibits striking
differences from the preceding two chapters. Thematically, the first
two chapters are largely narrative, recording Habakkuk's great per-
plexities (1:2-4, 12-17) and God's detailed responses (1:5-11; 2:1-20);
whereas, with the third chapter, a positive tone emerges in the
l W. F. Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy
Dedicated to T: H. Robinson, ed. H. H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950) 1,
notes, "The Psalm of Habakkuk, with its magnificent but often obscure imagery has
attracted many generations of scholars to its study." Despite scholarly scrutinizing,
Habakkuk 3 has defied a final solution. B. Margulis, "The Psalm of Habakkuk: A
Reconstruction and Interpretation," ZAW 82 (1970) 411, well remarks, "The numerous
treatments of the problems involved, in whole or in part, attest scholarly interest while
the serious divergences of opinion and conclusion indicate the need and desirability of
a new approach." (Note that Margulis includes an excellent bibliography of studies on
Habakkuk 3, pp. 440-41.) Although the observations that follow make no claim to be
a final solution of all the problems in the tantalizingly difficult poetic material in Hab
3:3-15, it is hoped that they will demarcate some elements that will point toward their
164 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
prophet's great prayer of praise of God. The first two chapters are
written in the usual classical Hebrew that was prevalent in the seventh
century B.C., whereas the psalm of chap. 3 utilizes older literary
material that had been passed down since Moses' day. Furthermore
these two sections are written in distinctively different literary vehicles.
The first two chapters were composed largely in literary forms that
are typical of prophecy such as oracles, laments, and woes. However,
the psalm of Hab 3:3-15 is written in an older poetic format that
contains some very difficult Hebrew grammatical constructions and
very rare words.
These factors, plus the inclusion of several musical notations
(3: 1, 3, 9, 13, 19) and the exclusion of the third chapter from the
Pesher Habakkuk of the Qumranic corpus, convinced many liberal
scholars that Habakkuk 3 is not an authentic work of the prophet but
is made up of several independent units that had been united with the
prophet's own writings.2 However, although it may deny the unity of
Habakkuk, current critical scholarship tends to consider the resultant
canonical book of Habakkuk to be the work of the prophet. Thus,
We must therefore regard the book of Habakkuk as a loose
collection of a group of songs of lamentation and oracles (i, 2-ii, 4), a
series of six cries of woe (ii, 5-20), and the prayer of iii, which all stem
from the same prophet Habakkuk, probably a cult-prophet, and origi-
nated in approximately the same period.3
Leaving aside matters of authorship, date, and composition, this
article will address specifically Habakkuk's psalm in 3:3-15. Having
looked at the text and noted some of its distinctive difficulties, an
analysis of its grammatical, literary, historical, and theological fea-
tures will be undertaken. A discussion of the identity of the literary
2 See J. A. Bewer,
The Literature of the Old Testament (3rd
at times, as being genuine, some going as far as Marti who felt that only seven verses in
the entire book were genuinely the work of the prophet (cf. H. D. Hummel, The Word
Becoming Flesh [
Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 932-37.
30. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. Peter R. Ackroyd (New
Habakkuk's authorship of the entire three chapters thematically, historically, and
contextually. See the remarks in the Introduction to the "Commentary on Habakkuk"
in the forthcoming Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, ed. W. Elwell (Grand
Rapids: Baker). In the translation and discussion below, recourse will be made at times
to the principle of the phonetic consonantism of the MT. For details as to phonetic
consonantism, see F. J. Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 165
genre of Habakkuk's psalm will follow, together with an examination
of its literary dependence on other poetic works of the same genre
in the literature of the ancient Near East. The closing summation
and conclusions will consider the significance of the psalm for the
TRANSLATION AND NOTES
3. Eloah came from Teman,
The Holy One from
His glory covered the heavens
And his praise filled the earth.
4. His brightness was like the light;
Rays (flashed) from his very own hand
That were from the inner recesses of his strength.
5. Plague went before him
And pestilence went out from his feet.
6. He stood and shook the earth;
He looked and made the nations to tremble.
The everlasting hills were shattered;
The eternal hills were made low
--His eternal courses.
7. I looked on Tahath-Aven
The tents of Cushan were trembling,
The tent curtains of the
8. Oh, Lord, were you angry with the rivers,
Or was your wrath against the streams,
Or your fury against the sea
When you were mounted upon your horses,
Your chariots of salvation?
9. You laid bare your bow;
You were satisfied with the club which you commanded.
10. The earth was split with rivers;
The mountains saw you, they trembled.
Torrents of water swept by;
The deep gave its voice;
It lifted its hands on high.
11. Sun and moon stood still in their lofty height;
They proceeded by the light of your arrows,
By the flash of the lightning, your spear.
12. In indignation you tread upon the earth;
In anger you trampled the nations.
13. You went out to save your people,
166 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
To deliver your anointed.
You smashed the head of the house of evil;
You stripped him from head to foot;
14. You split his head with his own club.
His leaders stormed out;
To scatter the humble was their boast,
Like devouring the poor in secret.
15. You tread upon the sea with your horses,
Heaping up the many waters.
The interchangeability of the three OT words for God lxe, Myhilox<,
and haOlx< makes any precise distinction to be difficult at best. The use
of the last word was predominant in the earlier periods, particularly
in connection with Edomite Ternan as shown by the frequency of its
employment in the dialogue between Job and Eliphaz. Accordingly,
Hummel may be correct in suggesting an association of this name for
God particularly with that region.4 It occurs in other early literature
in Deut 32:15, 17 and Ps (Heb.; cf. Ps 114:7).
One might also construe the second line of v 3 as reading "and
the holy ones from
with wdq, thus reading Mywidq;, and utilizing the preposition of line
one for line two, as well.5 "Holy One" is a common epithet for
Yahweh (cf. Job with Lev ). It was often used by Isaiah
(e.g., 6:3) and has already been employed by Habakkuk ().
Teman names the southernmost of
itself is also called Teman (Obad 9), the name stemming from a
grandson of Esau (Gen 36:11, 15, 42; Jer 49:7,20) whose descendants
inhabited the area. (For the relationship Esau =
). Paran designates not only a mountain range west and south of
14:6.) All three terms appear to be used as parallel names for the
southern area that stretched as far as the
33:1-2a reads: "Yahweh came from Sinai; he beamed forth from Seir;
4 Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh, 461. See further, H. D. Preuss, TDOT
1.272; J. Scott, TWOT 1.43.
5 For the presence of God's angels/holy ones in the movement from the south, see
Deut 33:2b-3; for the use of double duty prepositions, see M. Dahood, Psalms (AB;
Garden City; Doubleday, 1970) 3.435-37.
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 167
he shone from
also mentioned in Judg 5:4-5,
"O Lord, when you went out from Seir,
When you marched from the
The earth shook, the heavens poured,
The clouds poured down water.
The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai,
Before the LORD, the God
and Ps 68:7-8 (Heb. 8-9),
"When you went out before your people, O God,
When you marched through the wasteland,
The earth shook,
The heavens poured down rain."
motif seems to be a key one in
Cross points out,
The relation of this motif, the march of Conquest, to the early Israelite
cultus has been insufficiently studied. The last-mentioned hymn, Exodus
15, is rooted in the liturgy of the spring festival ("Passover" or Massot),
and it may be argued that it stems originally from the Gilgal cultus as
early as the twelfth century B.C. It rehearses the story of the Exodus in
the primitive form, the march of Conquest (13-18), and after the
"crossing over," the arrival at the sanctuary (verses 13, 17).6
Otl.AhiT; is sometimes translated "splendor" rather than "praise"
(see BDB, 240).
Myinar;qa/ 'rays' comes from a root meaning "to shine." The noun is
used primarily for the horns of various animals and hence becomes
employed figuratively as a symbol for strength or power. The juxta-
position of radiance and power can be seen in the incident of the
outshining of God's power through Moses' face (Exod 34:29). Both
radiance and power seem to be clearly intended here. The dual form
also controls the verb hyAhA which takes the t-form common to older
6 F. M. Cross, Jr., "The Divine
ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1966) 25. Cross links this
motif with the idea of kingship and suggests that both were utilized in the royal cultus
(pp. 27-33). See further, R. Patterson, "The Song of Deborah," in Tradition and
Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, eds. John S. Feinberg and Paul
D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981) 130-31.
168 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
NOyb;H, is hapax legomenon from the root hbAHA / 'to hide'. The
whole line is extremely difficult and has occasioned many suggestions
and emendations. Some meaning, such as "secret place," "inner
recesses," or "source," has usually been put forward here. Likewise,
the preceding word Mw can be variously pointed as MwA / 'there', MWe /
'name', or MyWi / 'set'. Thus, the line could be translated variously:
(1) "There was the hiding place of his might," (2) "(Its) name was 'The
ing the preposition from the preceding line] the inner recesses of his
strength." The suggestion that would point the word as "name" would
be in keeping with the ancient Near Eastern practice of naming
weapons and essential features.7 The word may also be divided by adding
the m to the following word, yielding a still different result (see below).
It may be added that NOyb;H, has often been related to the root.
hpAHA / JpaHA / 'cover' and accordingly is translated "covering.8 Thus,
the line would be translated, "And there is the covering of his power,"
or "The name of the covering is His Strength." If this latter sugges-
tion is followed, the covering could be understood as an entourage.
Thus, a smooth transition with v 5 could be gained by translating the
troublesome line, "And his mighty ones were there as a covering"
(i.e., encircling the divine king). So constructed, the thought parallels
that of Deut 33:2, "He came with myriads of holy ones" (cf. Ps 68:18
[Heb.]). It is of interest to note that Cross employs the term bbaHA in
this passage as a parallel to Mywidq; / 'his holy ones.' If this meaning is
allowed, then perhaps NOyb;H, could be normalized NOBHa with a meaning
something like "splendor" (cf. Akkadian ebebu / 'be pure, clean',
ebbu / 'polished, pure, shining, lustrous'). Hence, the line could be
read in parallel with the preceding two, "There is the splendor of his
might." However, since the Deuteronomy passage is beset with great
difficulty and Cross's own handling of the text is colored by numerous
conjectural emendations, this last translation must remain a pure
conjecture. Hab 3:4b stands as a crux interpretum. Ultimately, one
must determine (1) whether the line is best understood as a strict
parallel to the previous two lines or as transitional between them and
the two lines that follow, and (2) whether the contextual emphasis
centers on the frequently stressed idea of the veiled presence of God9,
7 See further, R. Patterson, "A Multiplex Approach to Psalm 45," GTJ 6 (1985)
8 See R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi (Word Biblical Commentary;
112; cf. M. O'Connor, Hebrew Verse
9 See S. L. Terrien, The Elusive Presence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978) 69;
C. F. Keil, Biblical
Commentary on the Minor Prophets (
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 169
or is a literary borrowing of the familiar theme of the divine warrior
moving amidst his heavenly armies that is adapted for Israelite cultic
purposes,10 or is simply an expression of God's power as manifested
in the natural world.
The translation followed here takes this line as parallel to the
preceding two and views it as primarily a poetic expression of God's
power in the natural world. The rendering given above is gained by
separating the m from the word and viewing the remaining w as a
relative particle preceded by a pleonastic waw. The resultant tense
stresses that the brilliant theophany originated in the inner recesses of
the strength of him who is light (cf. 1 John .1:5).
The parallel lines here have often been taken as evidence for
viewing Debir as an epithet or alternate name of Reshef, the well-
known Canaanite god of pestilence and sterility.11 Dahood calls
attention to the set pairs Nr,q, / MynipA in vv 4-5.12 O'Connor translates
vynApAl; "at his face."13
dd,moy;va has customarily been translated either "he measured" (RSV,
KJV, NKJV; cf. NASB, "surveyed") or "shook" (NIV; cf. LXX
e]saleu<qh). The inappropriateness of the former meaning has led
most critical expositors to favor the latter meaning here. Scholars
haye suggested various byforms and alloforms to account for this
understanding of ddm: (1) dUm = FUm / 'crumble', 'set in reeling mo-
tion' (Keil), (2) dUm = ddanA / dUn / 'move', (cf. FFamA / FUm / 'crumble,'
FFanA / FUn) / 'shake' [Margulis]), and (3) Arabic ** (mada) / 'was con-
Likewise, rTey.ava has occasioned several translations: die<takh /
'melt' (LXX), "drove asunder" (KJV), "startled" (NASB, NKJV),
"shook" (RSV), and "made to tremble" (NIV). If the previous line is
to be rendered "shook," the NIV translation is certainly most appro-
priate. If the traditional understanding of ddamA / 'measure' is retained,
perhaps a root fur / 'spy out, survey' might be suggested for the form
10 See F. M. Cross, Jr., Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (
University, 1973) 100-105.
11 See W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of
1969) 186. For the proposed Eblaite evidence, see the comments of Dahood in G.
Pettinato, The Archives of
12 M. Dahood,
Loren R. Fisher and Stan Rummel (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1972)
13 O'Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure, 235.
170 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
here. The force of the following couplet and the dire effects of the
preceding two probably best favor a translation similar to that of the
NIV for these two lines.
Ol MlAOf tOkyliHE. The line is difficult. It has usually been translated
by the English versions "His ways are everlasting/eternal." Albright
suggested that the l of the last word be combined with the first two
words of v 7 to read NxtHtl, thus reading an energic feminine plural
of xtAHA with emphatic l.14 So constructed, the newly constituted line
would be translated "Eternal orbits were shattered." While this
suggestion is attractive and involves no consonantal revision, it would
leave a metrical imbalance in vv 6b and 7, which appear to be formed
eternal courses." The meaning would be that the ancient hills and
mountains, now convulsing before the approaching theophany, had
formed the time-honored paths of God (cf. Amos ). Surely such a
poetic figure is most apropos for him who is called "The Rider on the
Clouds" (Ps 68:5 [Heb.]; cf. Isa 19:1) or "He who rides the Heavens"
(Deut 33:26; cr. Ps 68:34 [Heb.]). The syntax of the line is reminiscent
of Num 23:22b: Ol Mxer; tpofEOtK; (cf. Ps 18:8 [Heb.]: Ol hrAHA-hKi UwfEgAt;y.iva).
The first line of v 7 is another extremely difficult sentence to
interpret. The line has frequently been taken with the first two words
of the second line, leaving the last word of line two to be constructed
with line three. While this makes for a smooth translation, "I saw the
tents of Cushan in affliction:
/ And the curtains of the
did tremble (NIV)," it leaves an unusually long pair of lines: 5 / 4.
Despite the difficulty of MT, it seems best to retain the more custo-
mary reading with its
translated by the usual "in distress/ affliction," but may perhaps be
better taken as a geographical name paralleling Cushan and Midian
in lines two and three. Perhaps it may have been a name employed by
the Hebrew poet to describe the general area where the enigmatic
Cushan (= Egyptian Kushu?) and Midian were located, that is, tbe
southern part of the broad area that stretched from the Sinai Penin-
sula northward into Transjordania. If so, the whole verse forms a
geographic inclusio with v 3.15
14 Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 15.
15 Note that tHt appears as a geographical name in Num 33:26, 27. Nvx-type forms
occur as personal names and geographical names in the OT (e.g" Num 16:1; Ezra ;
Neh 6:2; 7:37; 11:35; Amos 1:5; cf. Gen 36:23; 38:4, 8, 9, etc.). If NvxtHt is to be taken
as a geographical name, Nvx- may be associated with a noun meaning "vigor" or
"wealth" coming from a second homophonous root to that of the usual noun translated
"trouble" or "wickedness" or "distress." The easy confusion between the two words
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 171
The presence of ytiyxirA here, a source of concern to many com-
mentators, may be explained by recalling the similar employment of
this verb in the Balaam oracles (Num 23:9; 24:17). Indeed, the poet
may have intended a deliberate pun or literary allusion to Num 23:21,
"He has not seen distress/wickedness in Jacob; / Nor has he looked
upon trouble in
Many have pointed out the familiar Ugaritic parallelism here of
MyA/ rhAnA.16 The reason for their employment here is an interpretive
problem that will be discussed below.17 Dahood also calls attention to
the use of tObK;r;ma / sUs here.18 The final noun has been taken as
standing at the end of a broken construct chain by Freedman.19
The question of whether rOfTe should be viewed as second mascu-
line singular or third feminine singular is conditioned by the under-
standing of the parallel line. Albright decides for the former and
translates "Bare dost Thou strip Thy bow";20 Keil follows the latter
course: "Thy bow lays itself bare.21 The second line is particularly
troublesome. Indeed, Margulis laments, "The second hemistich is
patently impossible.22 A perusal of the various ancient and modern
versions, as well as the commentators, shows the difficulties under
which the translators labored. No consensus as to the translation has
been reached. Laetsch points out that by his day Delitzsch had
counted more than one hundred different interpretations of this diffi-
That the divine warrior's weapons are taken in hand is clear from
the parallel pair tw,q, / hF,.ma.24 The use of such special weapons are
may possibly have been viewed as a literary pun: NvxtHt / 'wealthy place' is seen as 'in
16 For example, Cross, Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, 140 and Dahood, "Ugaritic-
Hebrew Parallel Pairs," 1.203.
17 See below. See further, A. Cooper, "Divine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic.
Texts," in Ras Shamra Parallels, 3.375.
18 Dahood, "Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs," 1.284; for bkr, see Patterson, "Psalm
45," 37 n. 35.
19 D. N. Freedman, "The Broken Construct Chain," Biblica 53 (1972) 535.
20 Albright, The Psalm of Habakkuk," 12.
21 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2.103.
22 Margulis, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 420.
23 T. Laetsch, Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets (
24 See Dahood, "Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs," 1.258. The final t in tNFm is the
common Canaanite feminine singular.
172 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
familiar from the literature of the ancient Near East. Thus Ward
remarks, "Syrian and Hittite art frequently represents Adad- Ramman,
god of storm, as armed with the same weapons, while the Babylonian
art gave this western god the forked thunderbolt.25 Good sense can
be gained by following Albright's lead in repointing MT tOfbuw; as a
second masculine singular perfect from fbaWA (although Albright .need-
lessly takes the following mattot from ESA mtw / 'fight,26), yielding a
rendering that is reminiscent of Anat's fighting as recorded in the Baal
cycle, "Anat fought hard and gazed (on her work), she battled. . .
until she was sated, fighting in the palace. . . . 27 As for the final rm,xo,
one may take the word possibly as the name of God's war club, the
noun coming from a verbal root rramA 'drive out,28 If so, it could be
a veiled reflection or scribal pun on Baal's war weapon Aymur
("Expeller).29 Perhaps the simplest solution is achieved, however, by
viewing the final t of mattot as a double duty consonant and translat-
ing the line "You were satisfied with the club which you com-
manded.30 Thus, there is probably a reminiscence of God's promise
to defend his people as given in Deut 32:40-42.
Verses Nine-c through Eleven
The first line (v 9c) has been translated by taking "earth" as
either the subject or the object of the sentence: Because the second
masculine singular verbal suffix is read in the following line, it seems
best to retain the traditional understanding of fq.abaT; as a second
masculine singular verb and view "earth" as its object, Earth and
mountains are found in parallel in several texts commemorating this
event (e.g., Judg 5:5; Ps 18:8 [Heb.]),31 The scene depicted here is
25 W. H. Ward, Habakkuk (lCC;
Patterson, "Psalm 45," 38-39.
26 Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 15.
27 See G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (
28 See C. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (
29 Ibid., 2.180.
30 For the use of double duty consonants, see I. O. Lehman, "A Forgotten Principle
of Biblical Textual Tradition Rediscovered,'" JNES 26 (1967) 93; cf. Dahood, Psalms,
2.81,3.371. For asyndetic
subordination, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew
Syntax (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 1958) 191-92. For the corresponding Akkadian
construction, see W. von Soden, Grundriss des akkadischen Grammatik (
Pontificium lnstitutum Biblicum, 1952) 219.
31 Several other parallel terms common to Ugaritic and Hebrew have been sug-
gested as present here by Dahood, "Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs," 1.177-78, 218,
372-73: fh/ dy, Ntn/ xWn, Mvht/ lvq (although LXX may be right in finding the parallel
of Mvht as Mvr).
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 173
recounted in detail also in Pss 18:8-16 (Heb.); 77:17-19 (Heb.); and
144:5-6 (cf. Judg 5:4-5).
The lack of metrical balance at the end of v 10 and the beginning
of v 11 has occasioned several suggestions as to the division of the
lines. Dahood takes
abyss gave forth its haughty voice.32 Albright takes the wm,w, of v 11
with v 10 and translates "The Exalted One, Sun, raised its arms.33
The translation adopted here takes HareyA-wm,w, as one composite name,
formed perhaps as a result of a deletion transformation so as to
achieve the desired three poetic lines. The juxtaposition of sun and
moon participating in earthly events is noted elsewhere (e.g., Josh
-13; Isa 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:4, etc.). The words are, of course,
familiar set terms.34
Smith calls attention to the fact that lbuz; used here for the
dwelling place for the sun and moon; is usually reserved for the
"exalted dwelling place of God.35 Since sun and moon are reported
as being among the heavenly retinue, they may also be viewed as
being where God dwells.36
The parallel pair Mfz / Jxa appears elsewhere of God's indignation
against his enemies (e.g., Isa 30:27). Especially instructive is Isa 10:5
where not only is this pair found, but hF.,ma (Hab 3:9) also appears:
"Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club
of my wrath." For xcAyA employed for God's going out to fight on
behalf of his people, see Judg 5:4 and Isa 42:13.
-tx, may be another example of an intrusive element within a
construct chain.37 Pusey, however, translates it as the preposition
32 M. Dahood, "The Phoenician Contribution to Biblical Wisdom Literature," in
The Role of the Phoenicians in the Interaction of Mediterranean Civilizations, ed.
William A. Ward (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1968) 140.
33 Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 12.
34 For the use of fixed pairs of set terms,
Pairs Common to Phoenician and Biblical Hebrew," UF 7 (1975) 13-47, esp. p. 19.
Note, however, the caution of P. C. Craigie, "Parallel Words in the Song of Deborah,"
JETS 20 (1977) 15-22. For the participation of other celestial phenomena in earthly
events, see Judg 5:20; Isa 60:19-20 and the remarks of P. C. Craigie, "Three Ugaritic
Notes on the Song of Deborah," JSOT 2 (1977) 33-49.
35 Smith, Micah-Malachi, 114.
36 See the discussion of J. Gamberoni, TDOT 4.29-31; see also H. Wolf, TWOT 1.235.
37 Freedman, "The Broken Construct Chain," 535; remarks, "The meaning must be:
'for the salvation of your people/for the salvation of your anointed.' Apparently the
174 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
"with," while Dahood suggests that fwayel; / 'for the salvation of' be
repointed to read fawiyl; / 'to save' (= a yiphil infinitive construct), a
suggestion apparently followed by NIV. The following tx, would
thus become an expanded accusative particle after a causative verbal
The term j~Heywim;/ 'your anointed,' has been taken as referring
either to the nation
Smith; cf. 2 Sam 23: 1), or to the Messiah (Hailey, Keil, Laetsch, Von
Orelli). The problem is largely an interpretive one. If the reference is
primarily historical and has in view the era of the exodus and wilder-
ness wanderings, the term must refer to Moses. Although "your
anointed" seemingly forms a parallel to
elsewhere called by this term. Rather, "the anointed" is customarily
reserved for individuals such as the high priest or the king (note also
Cyrus, Isa 45: 1). If Moses is intended, Pusey may be right in suggest-
ing that the tx, is to be taken as the preposition "with" (cf. Lat. Vg. in
salutem cum Christo tuo), for God promised Moses that he would be
with him (Josh 1:5; note, however, that the preposition there is Mfi).39
Verses Thirteen-b through Fourteen-a
The three lines here have occasioned several difficulties, chief of
which is the figure involved. Does God's smiting refer to the wicked
enemy (Margulis), a mythological figure (Albright, Smith), or the
enemy nation or armies viewed here under the figure of a house
(Keil)? Since, as Cassuto points out, the verb CHamA is commonly used
in both Ugaritic and the OT to signify a blow that the divine warrior
gives to his enemies, it seems best to translate the three lines as
rendered in my translation given above (cf. NIV).40 Such an under-
standing does away with the need for finding yet another broken
construct chain in the first line as suggested by Freedman.41
second phrase is a construct chain, like the first, except that the intrusive t has been
inserted between the construct and the absolute. Exactly what the t is it may be
difficult to say: it may be the emphasizing particle, normally used to identify the
definite direct object of a verb (here of the action), or it may be the pronoun written
defectively, used here to call attention to the pronominal suffix attached to the follow-
ing noun." For added discussion as to the broken construct chain, see A. C. M.
Blommerde, "The Broken Construct Chain, Further Examples," Biblica, 55 (1974) 549-
52. For a negative appraisal of the whole concept, see J. D. Price, "Rosh: An Ancient
Land Known to Ezekiel," GTJ6 (1985) 79-88.
38 For details, see E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953)
2.217; and M. Dahood, "Two Yiphil Causatives in Habakkuk 3, 13a," OR 48 (1979)
39 For the interchange of tx and Mf, see H. D. Preuss, TDOT, 1.449-58.
40 See U. Cassuto,
Biblical and Oriental Studies, trans.
Magnes, 1973) 1.268.
41 Freedman, "The Broken Construct Chain," 535.
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 175
tOrfA is doubtless to be construed as an infinitive absolute detail-
ing the extended activity of the main verb.42
The last three lines of v 14 are exceedingly obscure. The position
taken here suggests that there are three lines of
text in a
rather than the two lines of 3/4 as traditionally rendered. Key to the
understanding is the dividing of yniceypiHEla into two words: CUp / 'scatter'
and faynic; / 'humble' by viewing the c as another example of a double
duty consonant. The resultant translation yields not only better sense,
but delivers a nice parallel between faynic; / 'humble' and ynifA / 'poor.'
So construed, faynic; would take its place alongside such words as NOyb;x,
in contexts with ynifA.43
For the figure of God treading upon the sea, see Ps 77:20 (Heb.).
j~ys,Us is an adverbial accusative absolute which, in compressed lan-
guage, complements the action of the main verb and governs the
sense of the following line. The preposition of line one is also to be
understood in the second line.44
The basic literary dichotomy between chaps. 1 and 2 and 3:3-15
has already been noted (see above). The data that support the archaic
nature of 3:3-15 are presented here. First, it may be noted that there
are numerous cases of defective spelling in the interior of words, as
pointed out by Albright.45 Next may be gathered the various archaic
grammatical elements and poetic devices that occur: (1) the lack of
the definite article throughout these verses, (2) the t-form imperfect
used with duals or collectives (v 4), (3) the use of the old pronominal
42 See further, Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 38-39; and M. Hammershaimb, "On the
So-called Infinitivus Absolutus in Hebrew," in Hebrew and Semitic Studies Presented
to Godfrey Rolles Driver, ed. D. Winton Thomas
and W. D. McHardy (
Clarendon, 1963) 85-93.
43 Suitable parallels can be found in Pss 10:2, 8-10; 35:10; Prov 30:14, etc.
44 For details, see Dahood, Psalms, 3.436.
45 Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 10. Albright also suggests the presence of
an old energic form with emphatic l in vv 6-7: vxtHtl/'(eternal orbits) were shattered.'
It should also be noted that E. Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (4th ed.;
the troublesome crux as the Ugaritic word for destruction preceded by the preposition
l. However, see the discussion above in n. 15.
176 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
suffix in h (vv 4, 11), (4) the employment of enclitic -m (v 8),46 (5) the
frequent appearance of the old preterite prefix conjugation verb (vv
3-5, 7-12, 14) in variation with the suffix conjugation, (6) the use of
the l of possession in inverted predicate position in a non-verbal
sentence (v 6), and (7) the use of structured tri-cola employing climac-
tic parallelism (vv 4, 6b, 7, 8a, 10, 11, 13b) to mark major divisions
(6b- 7, 8) or subdivisions (vv 4, 10a, 11, 13b-14) within the poem.
As well, one may notice the use of parallel expressions and set
terms held in common in Ugaritic and the corpus of old Hebrew
poetry: Cr,x,/ MymawA (v 3), MynipA/ Nr,q,; (vv 4-5), MlAOf tOfb;Gi/ dfa-yrer;ha (v 6),
MyA/ rhAnA, hbAK;r;ma/ sUs (v 8), hF.,ma/ tw,q, (v 9), lOq/ MOhT;, xWAnA/ NtanA (v 8), and
HareyA / wm,w,, qrABA / CHe (v 11). Also to be noted is the utilization of a
vocabulary commonly found in older poetic material in the OT: haOlx<,
wOdqA, NrAxpA-rha, MyimawA (v 3), hvaHA (v 6), Nv,xA, zgarA (v 7), Jxa, bkarA (v 8), Myima
(Mr,z,), MOhT;, lOq (v 10), Jxa (v 12), hF.,ma, wxro, zrapA (v 14), and MyBira Myima,
MyA (v 15).47
No less significant is the presence of several themes common to
the body of Ugaritic and early OT poetic literature: (1) the Lord's
movement from the southland (v 3); cf. Deut 33:1-2; Judg 5:4; Ps
68:8 [Heb.]), (2) the presence of the heavenly assemblage (v 5; cf.
Deut 33:2-3), (3) the shaking of the terrestrial and celestial worlds at
God's presence (vv 6, 10-11; cf. Judg 5:4-5; Pss 18:8-9, 13-15 [Heb.];
68:34 [Heb]; 77:17-19 [Heb.]; 144:5-6), (4) the Lord's anger against.
sea and river (v 8; cf. Exod 15:8; Ps 18:8, 16 [Heb.]), (5) the Lord's
presence riding the clouds (v 8; cf. Exod 15:4; Pss 18:11-12 [Heb.];
68:5, 34 [Heb.]), (6) the fear of the enemy at the Lord's advance (vv 7,
10?; cr. Exod 15:14-16; Pss 18:8 [Heb.]; 77:17-19 [Heb.]), and (7)
the Lord's fighting against the boastful (v 14; cf. Exod 15:9) enemy
(vv 9, 11, 13-14; cf. Exod 15:3, 6; Ps 77:18 [Heb.]) so as to deliver his
people (vv 13-15; cf. Pss -39, 41 [Heb.]; 68:8 [Heb.] with Exod
46 For enclitic -m, see M. Pope, "Ugaritic Enclitic -m," JCS 5 (1951) 123-28; H. D.
Hummel, "Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew," JBL 76
(1957) 85-106; and Dahood, Psalms, 3.408-9.
47 For the bearing of Ugaritic research upon biblical studies see P. C. Craigie,
sive bibliography, pp. 107-9. For the corpus of ancient OT poetry, see below.
48 See further Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 8-9; idem, Yahweh and the
Parallels, 3.233-84; and Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 91-194.
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 177
Historical/ Theological Features
Having noted the archaic nature of the linguistic evidence con-
cerning Hab 3:3-15, it is necessary to inquire further concerning
historical and theological data that can be analyzed to help in
ascertaining the setting of Habakkuk's psalmic material. The his-
torical information is minimal, consisting of the notice of God's
an advance that brought consternation to that entire area (v 7). The
era involved in these verses, then, is obviously that of the period
surrounding the exodus and
ment to the
the victory at the
reminiscences have been suggested for some of the intervening verses,
such as the crossing of the Jordan or the Battle of Taanach (com-
memorated in Deborah's Song in Judges 5), but certainty is lacking in
either of these proposals. It must be pointed out, however, that even
though the time frame envisioned in these verses is that of the exodus
figurative nature of the poetry does not allow a precise identification
as to the time of its original composition.
Much can be said with regard to theological data. Certainly the
omnipotence and self-revelation of the invisible God of the universe
are taught here. As well, his sovereign control of the physical world
and his direct intervention into the historical affairs of mankind are in
evidence. Moreover, his redemption of and continuing care for his
people are distinctly underscored. However, because such theological
information is found in many places in the OT, these data are not
decisive in determining the date of the original composition of these
verses. Nevertheless, the fact that the historical reflections and theo-
logical viewpoint are consistent with and, indeed, are dominant in the
other early literature that forms parallels with these verses, and the
fact that the grammatical and literary data are like those that are
found in the early poetry of
these verses belong to that same literary cycle and commemorate the
same occasion. If not written in the same era as the other poetic
material and handed down to the prophet's day, the poetry found in
Habakkuk's prophecy here is at least written in a consciously archais-
tic manner. The utilization of earlier traditional material is cham-
pioned by Cassuto;49 an archaistic style is favored by Albright.50
I am convinced that Cassuto's position is essentially correct and
that the substance of Habakkuk's poetry, though doubtless reworked
49 Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.73.
50 Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 9.
178 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
by the prophet in accordance with the musical standards demanded
for its employment in the cultus, was directly part of a living epic
material handed down since the days of the exodus and its related
events and, under divine inspiration, was incorporated by Habakkuk
into his prophecy.
The Question of Literary Genre
It has been assumed to this point that the material in Hab 3:3-15
is epic in nature. The justification for this classification must now be
considered. An epic is a long narrative poem that recounts heroic
actions, usually connected with a nation's or people's golden age. As
such, epic forms a distinct substratum within the class of heroic
narrative.51 Epic literature usually finds its unifying factor in a central
hero whose courageous, wise, altruistic, and virtuous actions are
intended to be exemplary to subsequent generations. Thus, Ing
Its heroic nature is its prime essential and there is one meaning of
"heroic" which remains constant throughout all local and temporal
variations: the heroic standard of conduct means that a man cares for
something beyond his own material welfare and is prepared to sacrifice
for it comfort, safety and life itself; and his care for this "something" is
It is, therefore, highly didactic in purpose.
Stylistically, the exalted theme(s) and didactic material call forth
the highest efforts of the poet so that the language and expressions
become lofty in tone, or as Ryken puts it, "a consciously exalted
mode of expression that removes the language from the common-
place.53 To accomplish this goal, the poet makes special use of static
epithets, standardized literary formulae, and a body of set terms that
are not just easily memorized but are particularly designed to achieve
a distinct effect commensurate with his purposes. Nilsson observes,
In the epical language of all peoples occurs a store of stock
expressions, constantly recurring phrases, half and whole verses and
even verse complexes; and repetitions are characteristic of the epic
style. . . . The singer has a large store of poetical parts ready, and his
art consists in coordinating these parts according to the course of
51 See L. Ryken, The Literature of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) 81.
52 C. M. lng, "Epic," in Cassell's Encyclopaedia of Literature, ed. S. H. Steinberg
(London: Cassell & Company, 1953) 1.195-200.
53 Ryken, The Literature of the Bible, 81.
PATTERSON; THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 179
events and connecting them by the aid of new-made verses. A skilled
poet is able to improvise a poem on every subject.54
Accordingly, the epic poet's vocabulary is carefully drawn to
emphasize such qualities as: magnificence and grandeur, awe-inspiring
might and greatness, munificence and generosity, virility and valor,
piety and wisdom, and a strong sense of personal commitment even
to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Commensurate with these
idealized qualities, the epic plot is usually sublimated to the character
of its hero. The action of the narrative, while filled with such things as
exciting adventures, perilous wanderings, and colossal battles, is
nonetheless usually merely an instrument of focusing on the hero
himself whose laudatory conduct both emphasizes the significance of
life's quest and provides for future generations a model for the
challenges experienced by all men. Tillyard comments,
The epic writer must express the feelings of a large group of
people living in or near his own time. The notion that the epic is
primarily patriotic is an unduly narrowed version of this require-
ment. . . . The epic must communicate the feeling of what it was like to
be alive at the time.55
The hero, then, is man written large.
The structure of epic is often like a great arch through which on
one side the past may be seen, on the other the future. . . . While epic
raises its figures to astounding heroic stature, it never makes them
strange by eccentricity. They may be giants but they retain the form
and blood of the family of man.56
In turning to the epic literature of the classical world, certainly
this feature is central in the Homeric epics. As Flaceliere points out,
Homer bequeathed to future generations the ideal type of Greek man
(if we accept subtlety and a tendency to deception as part of such a
character); and perhaps the ideal type of all men (provided one regards
as a virtue prudence, which, in cases of extremity, is not above lying).57
To be sure, Homer's heroes play out their earthly roles in the face of
a heavenly family of deities whose own selfishness often causes them
54 M. P. Nilsson, The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology
55 E. M. W. Tillyard, The English Epic and
Its Background (
University, 1966) 12.
56 Ing, "Epic," 1.197.
57 R. Flacelieie,
A Literary History of
Aldine, 1964) 38.
180 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
to intervene on the stage of man's affairs in a capricious and cruel
manner.58 Nevertheless, this time-honored struggle59 was all to man's
own betterment, for the harshness of life brought on by the heavenly
fates provided man with a training ground for keeping in proper
tension60 the twin virtues of heroism and obedience on the one hand
and an often violent virility blended at times with a touching tender-
ness on the other. The balanced man must learn to live the full life of
In the midst of the catastrophes decreed by the gods, the best men
are capable of great actions, though at the cost of infinite affliction. . . .
Thus Homer sets before the Greeks the twofold ideal of the hero-sage.
In his two poems he exalts the clear-sighted energy of men who,
without illusions, struggle with their tragic destinies, with no real and
constant help save what they find in themselves, in "the greatness of
Much of this was passed on to the classical Latin world where it
was reshaped to fit the Roman mold. Hadas shows that Vergil "crowns
his work and Latin literature with an epic which would be inconceiv-
able without the models of Iliad and Odyssey.62 It was the latter epic
that had the place of prominence for the great Latin poet, for
there were familiar elements sure to appeal to the Roman-the spec-
tacle of endurance in the face of danger, the love of home, the fear of
the gods, the sombre religious associations with the 1ower world.
Odysseus was a hero more after the Roman heart than Achilles, and
Virgil shows this in his modelling of Aeneas.63
58 See Flaceliere's extended discussion, ibid., 46-50. See also, H. C. Baldry, Ancient
Greek Literature in Its Living Context (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968) 18-23.
59 Nilsson, The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology, 12-34, points out that
Homer was an heir to a heroic tradition that stretched back to the Middle Helladic Age
1963) demonstrates that there is an essential core of historical trustworthiness as to the
Mycenaean Age in the Homeric Iliad. Note, for example, his extended discussions on
pp. 134-47 and pp. 218-96.
60 W. C. Stephens, ed., The Spirit of the Classical World (
1967), 14, remarks, "The gods were in charge of life--there was no doubt of that--and
man could expect to suffer a good deal from them. But the Greeks combined this
attitude with an intense joy in living, for they did not regard themselves as playthings
of a despotic destiny. They were shapers of their own lives, within a framework set by
the gods, and took a fierce pride in human accomplishments even while they recognized
their vulnerability. It is this tension which makes Greek tragedy the profound and
moving form of art it is."
61 Placeliere, A Literary History of
62 M. Hadas, A History of Latin Literature (
63 J. W. Duff, A Literary History of
Ernest Benn, 1953) 91.
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 181
However, Vergil's genius may be seen in his psychologically pene-
trating advance on the concept of heroism. Thus, Bowra rightly
In the Aeneid Vergil presented a new ideal of heroism and showed
in what fields it could be exercised. The essence of his conception is
that a man's virtus is shown less in battle and physical danger than in
the defeat of his own weaknesses.64
Still further, Vergil emphasized that man's virtus became perfected
not only through courage, cunning, and the conquest of self, but
Vergil. . . has a profound sympathy for suffering and sorrow and
a conviction that it is through suffering that man reaches the depths of
religious experience. It is through sacrifice and suffering that ultimate
triumph is to be achieved.65
With all this Vergil's writings begin to take on a spiritual quality that
at times approaches Christian perspective, especially as seen in his
famous Fourth Eclogue. Hadas observes,
This poem has been more widely discussed than any piece of
similar length in classical literature. In language reminiscent of Scrip-
ture the poet prophesies the birth of a boy whose rule will usher in a
golden age of peace. Since Constantine and Augustine, Christian writers
have regarded the Eclogue as a prophecy of the Messiah. More prob-
ably the reference is to the child expected by Octavian and Scribonia,
who proved to be a girl, the infamous Julia, or possibly to a child of
cannot refer to Jesus, the notion of an expected redeemer may quite
likely derive from the hopeful speculations of the Jews on the subject.66
When one turns to the ancient Near Eastern world, he also
encounters epic material. Kramer counts no less than nine epics in
exist between the Sumerian epic and its classical counterparts.
64 C. M. Bowra, From Vergil to
65 M. Hadas, A History of Latin Literature, 154.
66 Ibid., 144.
Cyrus Gordon, "Vergil and the
Geuthner, 1969) 277, suggests that "by Vergil's time the Jews of Italy must have
cultivated messianism in
the heart of the
Romans of Vergil's generation." There was also a growing sense of apocalyptic in
Vergil, a theme for which he was perhaps indebted to the widespread appearance of
apocalypses in the centuries surrounding the advent of the Christian era. Messianism
and apocalyptic were blended together by Vergil who had a great feeling for the destiny
182 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
The Sumerian epic poems consist of individual disconnected tales of
varying length, each of which is restricted to a single episode. There is
no attempt to articulate and integrate these episodes into a larger unit.
There is relatively little characterization and psychological penetration
in the Sumerian material. The heroes tend to be broad types, more or
less undifferentiated, rather than highly personalized individuals. More-
over, the incidents and plot motifs are related in a rather static and
conventionalized style; there is little of that plastic, expressive move-
ment that characterizes such poems as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.
Mortal women play hardly any role in Sumerian epic literature, whereas
they have a very prominent part in. Indo-European epic literature.
Finally, in the matter of technique, the Sumerian poet gets his rhythmic
effects primarily from variations in the repetition patterns. He makes
no use whatever of the meters or uniform line so characteristic of Indo-
Kramer adds that the Sumerian narratives doubtless influenced the
literatures of the peoples around them so that the Sumerian epic
probably formed the precursor to the later classical and western
epics.68 Be that as it may, a direct transmission to the Semitic world
can be shown, most notably in the case of the famous Gilgamesh Epic
Sumerian stories. Important for the present discussion is the fact that
the Gilgamesh Epic is replete with many themes and elements common,
to epic literature in general. It focuses on a central hero whose deeds
and fortunes are praised. It tells of his wisdom and strength, rehears-
ing his dangerous journeys during which his courageous strength in
the face of great odds is demonstrated, often in the presence of hostile
heavenly intervention. It, too, has a universalistic and timeless tone,
for it grapples with the perennial problems of life itself: life's frailty,
the relation of life to death and the afterlife, and how best to make
the most of this life despite its sufferings. As Heidel writes, "Finally,
the epic takes up the question as to what course a man should follow
67 S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians (Chicago: Chicago University, 1963) 184-85.
68 The vastness of Sumerian connections in the ancient world has been demon-
strated repeatedly. See, for example, the discussion of H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness
The Encounter with the
remarks, "Historically, it is difficult to accept a total absence of continuum in concep-
tual links between ancient
cultural interrelations between
predisposes at least a case for a literary interplay as well. A literary link between the
classical and Near Eastern civilizations has been
pled by C. H. Gordon,
Row, 1962); and idem, The World of the Old Testament (Garden City: Doubleday,
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 183
in view of these hard facts. The solution it offers is simple: 'Enjoy
your life and make the best of it!69
The epic was also alive in ancient Syro-Palestine, as attested by
the Ugaritic literature. Prominence of place must be given to the
KRT Epic and the Epic of Aqhat. The former deals with heroism in
the royal house and has a theme in some ways akin to the Helen of
Troy motif of the Iliad. The latter tells of the fortunes of Aqhat and
his son Danel at the hands of the goddess Anat. Although both epics
lack the scope and psychological penetration of the classical epics and
do not specifically formulate questions about the eternal issues of life,
nonetheless they do wrestle with the problems of coping with the
vicissitudes of this life, particularly in the face of the divine presence.70
As well, they share motifs common both to the classical and Near
Eastern literatures so that Gordon can say, "It should thus be ap-
Testament in language and literature. At the same time,
close Aegean connections.71
The point of all of this is not necessarily to demonstrate any
distinct interaction of a particular epic between
classical, western traditions, but simply to show that the epic was a
widespread literary experience in the ancient world.72 Accordingly, it
would seem only natural that the Hebrews would be partakers of that
genre. Biblical critics have suggested that such is certainly the case.
Gordon finds much traditional epic material in the OT and is espe-
cially attracted to the concept of royal epic as it appears in the
patriarchal narratives.73 Ryken, however, classifies the patriarchal
69 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels
70 Most scholars suggest that the struggles of Baal against Yam and Mot also
comprise an epic cycle. Particularly important parallels exist between Hab 3:3-15 and
the Ugaritic material. See Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, 2.169-74, 178-80 (texts 51, 67,
72 Although consideration of the epic in
this paper, it should be noted that the epic made a significant contribution to the
literary tradition of the classical period. Two primary epics, both of which experienced
varying recensions and interpolations, are attested: the Mahabharata which traced the
account of the bloody battle between the Kauravas and its bloody aftermath, including
the adventures of the five sons of Pandu; and the Ramayana, which celebrated the
heroic deeds and adventures of Rama, the virtuous prince of Ayodhya. For details, see
and A. L. Basham, The Wonder that was India (2nd ed.;
73 See Gordon, Before the Bible, 285. Gordon earlier (pp. 101-12) suggests that
Hebrew literature followed a pure format in its epic style due to its connection with
that, in a sense, the whole Bible is epic, especially the Christian message.
184 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
accounts as belonging to the wider genre of heroic narrative, with
which he also includes the stories of Daniel, Gideon, David, Ruth,
and Esther. He restricts biblical epic to the exodus event.
There is only one biblical story that is in the running for consideration
as an epic. It is what I shall call the Epic of the Exodus, which occupies
parts of the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and
Deuteronomy. The main narrative sections are as follows: Exodus 1-
20, 32-34; Numbers 10-14, 16-17, 20-24; Deuteronomy 32-34.74
Cassuto likewise decides for the presence of epic tradition in the OT,
relating it particularly to the older poetry.
The Hebrew literature. . . continues the literary tradition that had
already become crystallized among the Canaanite population before
the people of
Hebrew tongue, with certain dialectal variations, the most ancient
Cassuto is careful to point out, however, that a fully developed epic
poem does not exist in the OT canon. What is found, rather, are
poetic remnants of what must have been a once extensive epic
When we have regard to the fact that the relevant passages depict the
events in poetic colours and expressions, and that in the main these
phrases are stereotyped, recurring verbatim in quite a number of
different verses, . . . it follows that these legends were not handed down
orally in a simple prosaic speech, which was liable to variations, but
assumed a fixed, traditional, poetic aspect. . . . This poetic form was
specifically epic in character.76
On the whole, one must agree with Cassuto. For certainly the
basic epic standard that such a work must be a long narrative poem is
nowhere met in the OT. Nevertheless, the primary importance of the
exodus itself and the prevalence of the exodus motif, as well as the
poetic reproduction of that event in various places in the OT, make it
highly likely that
great era in epic fashion.77 The epic remnants scattered throughout
74 Ryken, The Literature after Bible, 81.
75 Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.70.
76 Ibid., 73.
77 Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh, 70, observes, "The exodus event is the
heart of the Old Testament 'gospel,' and the word 'redeem' comes to be forever bound
to it." To this may be added the remarks of O. T. Allis, The Old Testament: Its Claims
and Its Critics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972) 267, "The deliverance from Egyptian
bondage is the most important, as it is the most spectacular redemptive event in the
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 185
the OT render it possible also that the details of the exodus once
existed in full epic form. If that was not in classical format, it was, at
least, in the traditional style of the familiar Near Eastern heroic cycle.
At this point two further problems surface. (1) If it can be shown
that Habakkuk's material is of epic quality, belonging to a corpus of
epic poetry, can the full range of that epic material be determined or
the original poem itself be recovered? (2) If that poem can be re-
covered and if it may be safely assumed that
pant in the ancient Near Eastern Mediterranean milieu, was its epic
drawn from and/or dependent upon any Near Eastern precursors?
The question of the content of the proposed Hebrew epic rests
on an examination of those poems that sing of the era and events of
literary features. To Hab 3:3-15 may be added: Exod 15:1-18; Deut
33:1-3; Judg 5:4-5; Pss 18:8-16 (Heb.); 68:8-9 (Heb.); 77:17-20
(Heb.); and 144:5-6. Two of these passages, Hab 3:3-15 and Exod
15:1-18, contain extended portrayals of the exodus experience.
Like Habakkuk's psalm, Exod 15:1-18 gives a detailed discus-
sion of the era of the exodus, first singing of the exodus itself and
victory at the
for his divine leading, first to
proleptically from Sinai to the Promised Land (vv 14-18).
Habakkuk adds considerable information to this event. In these
verses one can observe that there are actually two compositions, each
of which makes its own contribution to the corpus of the exodus epic.
That there are two poems here can be seen both from their differing
themes and the syntax of the respective material. Hab 3:3-7 describes
God's leading of his heavenly and earthly hosts from the south in an
awe-inspiring mighty theophany. It is marked structurally by the
repeated use of the coordinator waw to tie together its thought
associations. Hab 3:8-15 comprises a victory song commemorating
the conquest itself and points to the basis of that success in the
exodus event, particularly in the victory at the
no waw coordinator is used, thought associations being accomplished
via variations in sentence structure, including change of word order
and the skillful employment of poetic tricola.
Both portions, however, tell of the same era and sing of the
unfolding drama of the exodus event and in so doing employ epic
Exodus 3-15 and referred to a hundred or more times in the rest of the Old
186 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
themes and style. Thus, there is the central focus on a hero--God
himself. Moreover, in the first poem (vv 3-7) the poet relates the
account of an epic journey, here God's leading of his people from the
attention to God's command of nature in awesome theophany (vv
3-4), his special companions (v 5), his earthshaking power (v 6), and
the effect of all of this on the inhabitants of the land (v 7).
The second poem (vv 8-15) transcends the general bounds of the
being best understood as including God's miraculous acts in the
conquest period as well. God's victories at the end of the exodus
account are rehearsed first (vv 8-11), possibly reflecting such deeds as
the triumph at the
3-4), as well as the victories at the Wadi Kishon (Judges 4-5) and
Gibeon (Joshua 10). The poet then directs his hearers' attention to the
basic victory that gave
the singing of these two epic songs was designed for the listeners'
response in submission to
kuk's own reaction to them (vv 16-19).
Likewise, epic elements can be seen in these two poems in the
stylistic employment of literary features common to epic genre: the
use of static epithets, set parallel terms, and the utilization of a
vocabulary and themes common to the commemoration of the exodus
event.78 In both subject matter and literary style, Habakkuk's twofold
psalm deserves to be recognized as epic remnant.
When one considers both of the major passages concerning the
exodus (Exod 15:1-18; Hab 3:3-15) together with the reflections of
that event in other fragmentary portions, it is clear that the primary
emphasis of the epic cycle is on the deliverance
all other happenings that follow, including the conquest, are intri-
cately tied to it. Thus the whole movement from Egypt to Canaan
forms one grand exodus event. Seen in this way it may be possible to
sketch at least in shadowy form something of the substance of that
once great epic concerning
entrance in triumph into
and victor, God himself.
The following outline of themes and their source passages may
thus be tentatively proposed.
I. The Exodus Experience: The Redeemer's redemption of his people (Exod
78 See further, Rummel, "Narrative Structures in the UgariticTexts," 3.236-38.
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 187
A. Heading and Theme: A song of redemption for the Redeemer (Exod
B. God's Redemptive Work: Brings deliverance to his people from their
oppressors (Exod 15:3-5)
C. Israel's redemption: By the power of her omnipotent Redeemer (Exod
15:6-10; cf. Hab 3:l4b-15)
II. The Movement to Sinai: The Redeemer's self-revelation to his redeemed
people (Exod -13)
The Movement from Sinai to the
Redeemer to the nations (Hab 3:3-15)
A. The Redeemer's corning from the south (Hab 3:3-15)
1. His appearance (Hab 3:3-4; cf. Judg 5:4; Ps 68:8)
2. His associates (Hab 3:5; cf. Deut 33:2-3)
3. His actions (Hab 3:6-7)
B. The Redeemer's conquest (Hab 3:8-15)
1. His power: As seen at the Jordan (Hab 3:8-9)
2. His power: As seen in the natural world (Hab -11; cf. Judg
5:4-5; Pss 18:8-16; 68:8-9; 77:17-20; 144:5-6)
3. His power: As seen by the enemy (Hab 3:12-15; cf. Exod 15:14-
So viewed, the exodus epic once sang of God's mighty prowess in
delivering his people from
Sinai and through the Transjordanian Wilderness, sang of the cross-
ing of the
the conquest of the land. The full epic, obviously, has not been
inscripturated. Perhaps this is because, as Cassuto suggests, the lan-
guage of the full blown ancient epic was so intertwined with its
mythological predecessors,79 or simply because God wanted the focus
could and did supply to his enslaved people rather than on an
account that all too easily could become treated as merely legendary.
The question of
traditions must now be considered. Certainly
in the midst of a somewhat similar cultural milieu favors the pos-
sibility of a literary borrowing. Moreover,
Literary works throughout the ancient world, especially in the
ancient Near East, share motifs and forms. Proverbs, hymns, disputa-
tions, and prophecies appear in the literature of cultures influenced by
Indeed, the Hebrew poets' employment of literary themes and ter-
minology found in the epics of the surrounding nations makes the
79 Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.70-80, 102.
80 V. L. Toilers and J. R. Maier, eds., The Bible and Its Literary Milieu (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 11.
188 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
question of the relationship of the Hebrew epic to the epic literature
of the Ancient Near East a pertinent one. However, as Lambert
points out, with regard to the many parallels between the literature of
links in such cases.81
Although some scholars suggest a relationship between the above
mentioned material with Mesopotamian sources (e.g., Kramer and
Smith), most underscore the frequent similarities between the OT and
the great Canaanite epics in vocabulary, poetic devices, and, espe-
cially, thematic motifs. As for the material considered here, Cassuto
finds Canaanite literary traditions echoed in nearly every verse of
Exod 15:1-18,82 and also lists the several cases where Habakkuk has
reproduced epic elements in his two psalms: the noise of the waves of
the sea (Hab ), the anger of the Lord against the enemy (Hab 3:8,
12; cf. Exod 15:7), the appearance of the Lord riding on his chariots,
the clouds of the sky (Hab 3:8; cf. Exod 15:2,4), the thunderous voice
of the Lord above the roar of the sea (Hab ), the fear and flight of
the enemy at the presence of the Lord (Hab ; cf. Exod ), the
Lord's fighting against the rebels with his divine weapons (Hab 3:9,
11, 14), the Lord's compelling of the monsters to leap into the sea
(Hab 3:6; cf. Exod 15:3), the Lord's annihilation of Rahab and his
helpers (Hab 3:9, 13; cf. Exod 15:2), the Lord's treading upon the sea
(Hab ), and his final reign (Exod ).83 Cassuto relates most of
these to the battles reported in the Ugaritic tales of the Baal and Anat
cycles wherein Baal compelled Prince Yam (sea) and Judge Nahar
(river) to recognize his kingship over them.84 Thus, the Hebrew
poets used "the expression and motifs that. . . were a paramount
feature of the ancient epic.85 He goes on to suggest that the early
Hebrew storytellers probably borrowed wholesale elements from these
Canaanite myths and may even have had native (non-biblical)
epic literature to draw upon, such as in the case of "The Revolt of
81 W. G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis," in
The Bible and Its Literary Milieu, 285-97.
82 Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.99-101.
83 See the concise summary by Rummel, "Narrative Structures in the Ugaritic
84 Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.80-97. Cassuto relates the Lord's tread-
ing upon the sea to Marduk's defeat of Tiamat recounted in the Enuma Elish; see
85 Ibid., 99. For a discussion of common elements of the epic battle of the divine
hero against the sea., see E. L. Greenstein, "The Snaring of Sea in the Baal Epic,"
MAARAV 3 (1982) 195-216. Greenstein has an excellent bibliography of sources that
relate the epic material to the Bible.
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 189
Although the Israelites no longer recounted tales concerning two
deities who waged war against each other, they did nevertheless pre-
serve a story about one of the created beings--the great Sea--who
rebelled against his Creator, or of some kind of evil angel, who
attempted unsuccessfully to oppose the will of God of the universe.86
However, it seems that the case for the adoption of a complete
secular story in full literary dependence upon Ugaritic source material
has not been demonstrated. While many of the data cited above
extensively reflect the phraseology and vocabulary of Canaanite
literature, no full scale borrowing can be shown, even in Cassuto's
"Song of the Sea."
Not only this, but the settings of these two sources are distinctly
different. The relevant Near Eastern accounts deal with creation and
the ordering of the heavens and earth.87 The cycle of biblical narra-
tives upon which Habakkuk evidently drew deals with the exodus, the
basic expression of
tended portions in the OT considered here, Exod 15:1-18; Hab 3:3-
15, are indeed victory songs, the literary relationship between the
scriptural accounts and the Near Eastern literature need be viewed as
nothing more than that. All that can be safely said is that in the
singing of God's redemption of
have used the format, vocabulary, and phraseology of victory genre
and heroic epic narratives. Therefore, Cross is correct when he
with the mythopoeic patterns of West Semitic, especially Canaanite
myth. Yet its religion did emerge from the old matrix and its institu-
tions were transformed by the impact of formative historical events and
their interpretation by elements of what we may call "Proto-Israel"
which came together in the days of Moses and in the era of the
Accordingly, it is apparent that just as with the whole corpus, so the
relevant verses of Habakkuk's prophecy partake of a cycle of tradi-
tional epic material which, though using the language and literary
motifs of its neighbors (particularly of
a victor, God himself.
86 Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.81.
87 A discussion and detailed critique of the growing literature concerning the
Hebrews' supposed indebtedness to the literature of the ancient Near East in general
and to Ugaritic, in particular, is given by Rummel, "Narrative Structures in the
Ugaritic Texts," 3.233-332.
88 Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 143-44. Cf. P. C. Craigie, "The Poetry
190 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Herein lies the crucial point of the matter. Unlike the typical
secular epic, the central figure of the scriptural epic is not man written
large, but the one in whose image man is created--God himself.
Despite the prowess and success of the hero of the standard non-
biblical epic, a note of pathos and a lack of fulfillment conventionally
attend his actions. Accompanying the highest attainments of heroic
man, be it the valor and wisdom of Homer's heroes, the virtue of
Vergil's Aeneas, or the strength and resourcefulness of Gilgamesh,
there is always the sense of striving to "make do" in the face of life's
stark realities and often cruel circumstances. Man, then, must become
superman, or as Ing puts it, "the human figures themselves may at
moments be raised to act on the superhuman plane.89 However
representative of the finest qualities of humanity the epic hero may
be, a sense of the unattainable, of the failure to achieve immortality
and full human potential can be felt. Perhaps no more telling words
can be cited than those of Gilgamesh:
[For] whom, Urshanabi, have my hands become weary?
For whom is the blood of my heart being spent?
For myself I have not obtained any boon.
For the 'earth-lion' have I obtained the boon.90
In the corpus of biblical epic literature,
tion is focused always upon the one who himself is the summum
bonum, the source of man's redemption and the norm and standard
for man's activities. In the deepest sense, man's fullest goals become
fulfilled by being identified with and submitted to him who is ultimate
reality. Israelite epic, then, unlike its secular counterparts, is realized
epic,91 for the one of whose presence the Israelite sings is at once
man's highest goal.
That the Hebrew epic is realized epic may be seen not only from
the clear implications of the epic material itself (e.g., Exod 15:2, 17-
18; Ps 77:21 [Heb.]), but from the reaction of Habakkuk at witness-
ing the mighty acts of God (Hab -19; cf. Job's similar response at
seeing the all-sufficient greatness of God, Job 42:1-6). Moreover, it is
clear that the exodus event becomes throughout the OT not only the
accordance with God's predetermination of what is best for man.92
89 Ing, "Epic," 1.197.
90 The translation given here is taken from Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old
Testament Parallels, 92.
91 I owe the coining of this term to Michael Travers of the English Department at
92 See the helpful discussion of G. Vox, Biblical
mans, 1954) 124-29. See also E. Martens, God's Design (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981)
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 191
is apparent not only from the account of the exodus from
which itself forms the foundation for the formulaic presentation of
the Ten Commandments (Exod 19:4-6; 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21) and
the specific requirements for a redeemed people (Deut -40; -
29; -21; ; Jer 7:22-23, etc.), but from the details of the
wilderness wanderings (Deut 8:1-6; 11:1- 7, etc.) and the culminating
experience of being God's special people (Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6-11;
14:2; 26:16-19) fitted for living in the land of promise (Deut 6:1-25;
8:7-10; 11:8-21; Josh 23:3-6,15; Ps 105:43-45, etc.).93
From start to finish, then, the exodus formed one grand event
through which a redeemed people was to realize life's full potential
and finest blessings. Indeed, before that event had taken place or the
epic songs had been sung, God had told Moses,
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of
Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he
was afraid to look at God.
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in
I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue
them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that
land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and
Through it all a redeemed people learned the divine prescription for
living life on the highest plane. As Martens remarks,
In summary, early
nature and among nations. She experienced him more directly in his
power and salvation at the exodus, and in an on-going fashion she was
led into a life of intimacy with him in the religious practices which he
enjoined for her .95
The basis of that on-going life lay in doing that which was perfect in
God's sight (Deut ; cf. Ps 101:6). The dynamic for carrying out
that life rested in the appropriating of God's moral attributes as one's
own, especially his holiness (Lev ; 19:2). The standard for the
believer's ethical conduct meant living life as God did, in truth and
justice (Ps 85:1-14 [Heb.]), and the imperative for that ethic lay in a
growing, all-consuming love for God that resulted in a consistent
93 K. A. Kitchen, "Exodus;" in The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) 404, well remarks, "Repeatedly in later generations,
the prophets in exhorting
meditations hark back to this Exodus. . . . For them, the great redemption is ever to be
remembered with gratitude and response in obedience."
94 Exod 3:6-8, NIV.
95 E. Martens, God's Design, 96. See also his earlier discussion on pp. 18-20.
192 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
faithfulness to God in every area of life.96 Unlike the frustrated hero
of the secular epic who ultimately remained unfulfilled, the OT be-
liever found his epic hero in the One who offered life on the highest
plane. That message of full salvation would continue to punctuate the
pages of the old revelation until in the fulness of time would come the
Great Redeemer who would proclaim "I am come that ye might have
life and that more abundantly" (John ).
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
A careful analysis of Habakkuk's twofold psalm reveals that it is
to be viewed primarily as a victory song. Like other victory songs in
the ancient Near East its leading themes and literary features place
Habakkuk's psalm firmly within the corpus of Semitic epic literature.
The common subject matter, phraseology, and structure it shares with
several other early poetic compositions in the OT suggest the pos-
sibility of the existence of an ancient Hebrew epic cycle that com-
memorated God's heroic redemption
of that great exodus event, starting from the
deliverance out of
and stretching to the conquest, continued to be sung in non-canonical
and canonical settings down through
ticularly prominent at times of national distress, as in Habakkuk's
day. As noted above, the language and literary themes of that great
event were sung not only by Moses (Exod 15:1-18; cf. Num 23:22-24;
24:8-9; Deut 33:2-3), but on subsequent occasions at crucial times:
by Deborah (Judg 5:4-5) and David (Pss 18:8-16 [Heb.]; 68:8-9
[Heb.]; 144:5-6), and in the poems of the temple liturgy (Pss 77:17-20
[Heb.]; 114:3-7). Thus, Cross affirms that
The oldest poetry of
survive in unrevised form, is marked by a ubiquitous motif: the march
of Yahweh from the
southern mountains (or from
Cross goes on to suggest that this became the dominant theme of the
early Israelite cultus. Whether or not this latter idea can be affirmed,
certainly the exodus event is repeatedly referred to, and themes from
the epic cycle continue to appear in the canonical literature at crucial
times in the first millennium B.C. One may consider, for example, Joel
96 The NT ethic, based on the new covenant where God's eternal principles are
written in the believer's heart, prescribes the same great elements: perfection (Matt
), holiness (l Pet ), and truth and love (Eph -16).
97 Cross, "The Divine Warrior in
PATTERSON: THE PSALM OF HABAKKUK 193
(-16), Amos (1:2; 4:13b; 8:8;9:5-6), and Isaiah (e.g., ; 44:27;
50:2; 51:10, 15; 64:1-4; 66:15) in the eighth century, and Nahum (1:2-
4), as well as Habakkuk, in the seventh century.
Thus, there is every reason to believe that Habakkuk could have
literary antecedents that were fully available to him for use in com-
posing his double psalm. In this regard, Keil remarks:
The description of this theophany rests throughout upon earlier
lyrical descriptions of the revelations of God in the earlier times of
in Deut. xxxiii.2; and in the further course of the ode we meet with
various echoes of different psalms (compare ver. 6 with Ps. xviii.8; ver.
8 with Ps. xviii.10; ver. 19 with Ps. xviii.33, 34; also ver. 5 with Ps.
lxviii.25; ver. 8 with Ps. lxviii.5, 34). The points of contact in vers.
10-15 with Ps. lxxvii.17-21, are still more marked, and are of such a
kind that Habakkuk evidently had the psalm in his mind, and not the
writer of the psalm the hymn of the prophet, and the prophet has
reproduced in an original manner such features of the psalm as were
adapted to his purpose.98
Of course, God could also have supernaturally revealed to Habakkuk
these very events so that Habakkuk saw and heard what transpired in
those days. If so, he could have easily used the very archaic phrase-
ology of that earlier age.99 Habakkuk's own reaction to the epic
material may well point to such a visionary experience: "I heard and
my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound" (Hab ). Under
either alternative the archaic nature of the poetry is readily explained.
In any case, it is evident that Habakkuk had been led by the
Lord to consider the greatness and sufficiency of God. In so doing,
his attention is called to
exodus. Habakkuk apparently knew it well: "LORD, I have heard of
your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD" (Hab 3:2a). As
suggested above, he may even have had a body of epic literary
tradition available to him as he contemplated his perplexities and
God's person.100 The rehearsal of the double poem of the exodus
event was sufficient for the prophet.
98 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2.96.
99 So T. Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 345. So also, Smith, Micah-Malachi 116, who
remarks, "3:3-15 is a vision of Habakkuk much like the vision God promised him in
2.3. Habakkuk may have had an ecstatic experience in which he 'saw' God coming to
defeat his enemies."
100 Note that Habakkuk's final affirmation of confidence in the Lord (v 19) is also
drawn from the corpus of older literature (cf. Ps 18:33-34 [Heb.] with Job 9:8). For
Heb. tvmb = bmt / 'back,' see Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, 3.373.
194 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Habakkuk had asked that-beyond whatever judgment
must experience--God would again move on behalf of his people in a
deliverance like unto that in the exodus (Hab 3:2). The reiteration of
God's past intervention on behalf of his people, delivering them from
bondage and guiding them into the land of promise, brought reassur-
ance to him (Hab -19). God's word had brought new confidence
to the prophet that both the present situation and final destination for
the people of God would find their resolution in the redeeming God
of the exodus event. As Feinberg points out,
In a sublime manner the prophet now pictures a future redemp-
tion under figures taken from past events. The background here is the
memory of the events of the Exodus and Sinai. Just as the Lord
manifested Himself when He
appear again to deliver the godly among His people from their oppres-
sors among the nations and will judge their foes as He did the land of
As the message of Habakkuk is heard again by the people of God,
may that same God-inspired confidence and conviction grip them as
the prophets of old,
I will wait patiently for the day of calamity. . .
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.102
101 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976) 216-17. See also,
H. Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972) 290.
102 Hab 3:16,18-19, NIV.
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