Grace Theological Journal 8.2 (1987) 163-94.

[Copyright © 1987 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Grace Colleges and elsewhere]








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

Israel's Redeemer. Habakkuk's own response (in vv 16-19) illustrates

the proper movement toward Israel's grand and heroic Savior.


*     *     *




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

final solution.



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,

Eissfeldt remarks,

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 ed.; New York:

Columbia University, 1962) 151. Actually more than just Hab 3:3-15 has been denied,

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 [St. Louis: Concordia, 1979] 344). See further, R. K. Harrison,

Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 932-37.

30. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. Peter R. Ackroyd (New

York: Harper & Row, 1965) 420. This writer believes that a good case can be made for

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 Poetry (Baltimore:

Johns Hopkins, 1950) 59-61.



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




      3.  Eloah came from Teman,

The Holy One from Mount Paran.

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 land of Midian.

      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,



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.




Verse Three

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 18:32 (Heb.; cf. Ps 114:7).

One might also construe the second line of v 3 as reading "and

the holy ones from Mount Paran," taking the m of Mount Paran

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 6:10 with Lev 11:44). It was often used by Isaiah

(e.g., 6:3) and has already been employed by Habakkuk (1:12).

Teman names the southernmost of Edom's two chief cities. Edom

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 = Edom, see Gen

25:25, 3.0.) Edom was formerly called Mount Seir (Gen 36:8-9; Deut

2:12). Paran designates not only a mountain range west and south of

Edom and northeast of Mount Sinai, but a broad desert area in the

Sinai Peninsula. (For the juxtaposition of Seir and Paran, see Gen

14:6.) All three terms appear to be used as parallel names for the

southern area that stretched as far as the Sinai Peninsula. Thus Deut

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 Mount Paran." The movement from the southeast is

also mentioned in Judg 5:4-5,

"O Lord, when you went out from Seir,

When you marched from the land of Edom,

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 of Israel."


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."


The motif seems to be a key one in Israel's early epic tradition. Thus,

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).


Verse Four

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 Warrior in Israel's Early Cult," in Biblical Motifs,

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.



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

Source/Secret Place of his strength,'" or (3) "Set (there) from [utiliz-

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; Waco: Word,

1984) 112; cf. M. O'Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns,

1980) 234.

9 See S. L. Terrien, The Elusive Presence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978) 69;

.cf. C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1954) 2.99-100.



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).


Verse Five

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


Verse Six

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-

vulsed' (Driver).

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 (Cambridge: Harvard

University, 1973) 100-105.

11 See W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Garden City: Doubleday,

1969) 186. For the proposed Eblaite evidence, see the comments of Dahood in G.

Pettinato, The Archives of Elba (Garden City: Doubleday, 1981) 296.

12 M. Dahood, "Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Paris," in Ras Shamra Parallels, ed.

Loren R. Fisher and Stan Rummel (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1972)


13 O'Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure, 235.



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

as a 3/3/3 pattern. Further, MT does yield a reasonable sense as "his

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 4: 13). 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).


Verse Seven

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 land of Midian

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 3/3/3 meter. The troublesome Nv,xA tHaTa can be

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 2:33;

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



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 Israel."


Verse Eight

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


Verse Nine

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-

cult line.23

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 (St. Louis: Concordia,

1956) 347.

24 See Dahood, "Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs," 1.258. The final t in tNFm is the

common Canaanite feminine singular.



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; New York: Scribner's, 1911) 23. See also

Patterson, "Psalm 45," 38-39.

26 Albright, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," 15.

27 See G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark;

1956) 84-85.

28 See C. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontificium lnstitutum Biblicum,

1965) 3.356.

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 (Toronto:

Toronto University, 1976) 90; Dahood, Psalms, 3.426-27; and A. B. Davidson, Hebrew

Syntax (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 1958) 191-92. For the corresponding Akkadian

construction, see W. von Soden, Grundriss des akkadischen Grammatik (Rome:

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).



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 MUr, with the first line of v 10b and reads "The

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

10:12-13; 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


Verse Twelve

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.


Verse Thirteen

-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, see S. Gervirtz, Patterns in the Early

Poetry of Israel (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1963) 2-4, 10-14; and Y. Avishur, "Word

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



"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 Israel (Ewald, Hitzig), Israel's Davidic king (R.

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 "your people," Israel is not

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. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem:

Magnes, 1973) 1.268.

41 Freedman, "The Broken Construct Chain," 535.



tOrfA is doubtless to be construed as an infinitive absolute detail-

ing the extended activity of the main verb.42


Verse Fourteen

The last three lines of v 14 are exceedingly obscure. The position

taken here suggests that there are three lines of text in a 2/3/3 pattern

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


Verse Fifteen

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



Grammatical Features

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 (Oxford:

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.;

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 114-15, follows the lead of K. Ellinger in translating

the troublesome crux as the Ugaritic word for destruction preceded by the preposition

l. However, see the discussion above in n. 15.



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


Literary Features

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 18:38-39, 41 [Heb.]; 68:8 [Heb.] with Exod

15:10, 12-13).48


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,

Ugarit and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) 67-90, and his exten-

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

Gods of Canaan, 1-52, 183-93; Cassuto, Biblical and Oriental Studies, 2.3-15, 16-59,

69-109; S. Rummel, "Narrative Structures in the Ugaritic Texts," in Ras Shamra

Parallels, 3.233-84; and Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 91-194.



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

leading Israel (v 3) in her movement from the Transjordanian south-

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 Mount Sinai revelation and the move-

ment to the Jordan River. This is further confirmed by the notice of

the victory at the Red Sea (vv 14-15). Other possible historical

reminiscences have been suggested for some of the intervening verses,

such as the crossing of the Jordan or the Battle of Ta’anach (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

and Israel's early movement toward the Land of Promise, the highly

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 Israel argue for the presumption that

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.



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.



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 (New York: Norton,

1932) 19.

55 E. M. W. Tillyard, The English Epic and Its Background (New York: Oxford

University, 1966) 12.

56 Ing, "Epic," 1.197.

57 R. Flacelieie, A Literary History of Greece, trans. Douglas Garman (Chicago:

Aldine, 1964) 38.



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

human potential.

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

their hearts".61


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

of Mycenae. D. Page, History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley: University of California,

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 (New York: Capricorn,

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 Greece, 59.

62 M. Hadas, A History of Latin Literature (New York: Columbia University,

1952) II.

63 J. W. Duff, A Literary History of Rome, ed. A. M. Duff (3rd ed.; London:

Ernest Benn, 1953) 91.



However, Vergil's genius may be seen in his psychologically pene-

trating advance on the concept of heroism. Thus, Bowra rightly

points out,

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

through suffering:

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

Antony and Octavia, or to Pollio's own son. But if the prophecy

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

ancient Sumer. However, as Kramer points out, distinct differences

exist between the Sumerian epic and its classical counterparts.


64 C. M. Bowra, From Vergil to Milton (New York: St. Martin's, 1967) 84.

65 M. Hadas, A History of Latin Literature, 154.

66 Ibid., 144. Cyrus Gordon, "Vergil and the Near East," Ugaritica VI (Paris: Paul

Geuthner, 1969) 277, suggests that "by Vergil's time the Jews of Italy must have

cultivated messianism in the heart of the Roman Empire, where they influenced

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

of Rome in general and for the key role of Augustus in particular.



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-

European epics.67


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

of ancient Babylon which was drawn largely from several earlier

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

that was Babylon (New York: Hawthorn, 1962) 271-92; and E. Yamauchi, Greece and

Babylon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967) 26-32. In another connection, H. W. F. Saggs,

The Encounter with the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel (London: Athlone, 1978) 6,

remarks, "Historically, it is difficult to accept a total absence of continuum in concep-

tual links between ancient Mesopotamia and the present." The established fact of

cultural interrelations between Sumer and the Near Eastern and Mediterranean worlds

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, Ugarit and

Minoan Crete (New York: Norton, 1966); idem, Before the Bible (New York: Harper &

Row, 1962); and idem, The World of the Old Testament (Garden City: Doubleday,

1958), 101-12.



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-

parent that Ugarit has the most intimate connections with the Old

Testament in language and literature. At the same time, Ugarit has

close Aegean connections.”71

The point of all of this is not necessarily to demonstrate any

distinct interaction of a particular epic between the Near East and the

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 (2nd ed.; Chicago:

Chicago University, 1949) 12. The Gilgamesh Epic is also known from Hittite and

Hurrian tablets.

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,


71 Gordon, Ugarit and Minoan Crete, 28.

72 Although consideration of the epic in ancient India is beyond the parameters of

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

Vincent Smith; The Oxford History of India (3rd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1958) 55-60;

and A. L. Basham, The Wonder that was India (2nd ed.; New York: Hawthorn, 1963)


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

Egypt. N. Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (New York: Atheneum, 1968) 315-20, remarks

that, in a sense, the whole Bible is epic, especially the Christian message.



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 Israel came into being, just as there survives in the

Hebrew tongue, with certain dialectal variations, the most ancient

Canaanite idiom.75


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 Israel, like its neighbors, sang the praises of a past

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



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.


Literary Dependence

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 Israel was a full partici-

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

Israel's exodus from Egypt and contain the same grammatical and

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

Yahweh's victory at the Red Sea (vv 1-10) and then praising the Lord

for his divine leading, first to Mount Sinai (vv 11-13) and then

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 Red Sea. Structurally,

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


history of Israel. Together with the events leading up to it, it is described in detail in

Exodus 3-15 and referred to a hundred or more times in the rest of the Old




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

southland toward Canaan, the land of promise. He calls particular

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

movement from Egypt to the Jordan (cf. Ps 114:3-5), the phraseology

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 Red Sea (Exodus 15) and at the Jordan (Joshua

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 Israel its deliverance and eventual conquest of

Canaan--the triumph in Israel's exodus from Egypt (vv 12-15). That

the singing of these two epic songs was designed for the listeners'

response in submission to Israel's Redeemer can be seen in Habak-

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 out of Egypt and that

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 Israel's exodus out of Egypt and eventual

entrance in triumph into Canaan through the might of its divine hero

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.



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 15:11-13)

III. The Movement from Sinai to the Jordan: The revelation of Israel's

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 3:10-11; 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 Egypt, traced God's guidance of them to

Sinai and through the Transjordanian Wilderness, sang of the cross-

ing of the Jordan River and recorded the triumphal entry into and

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

of Israel's attention to be on himself and the redemption that he alone

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 Israel's literary indebtedness to other literary

traditions must now be considered. Certainly Israel's central location

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

the Hebrews.80


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.



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

Mesopotamia and the Bible, one must be cautious in finding direct

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 3:10), 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 3:10), the fear and flight of

the enemy at the presence of the Lord (Hab 3:10; cf. Exod 15:14), 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 3:15), and his final reign (Exod 15:18).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

the Sea."


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

Texts," 3.236-39.

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.



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 Israel's spiritual heritage. Although the two ex-

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 Israel from Egypt, Israel's songwriters

have used the format, vocabulary, and phraseology of victory genre

and heroic epic narratives. Therefore, Cross is correct when he


Israel's religion in its beginning stood in a clear line of continuity

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 Canaan), spoke of life through

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

of Ugarit and Israel," TB 22 (197.1) 25.



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, however, Israel's atten-

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 3:16-19; 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

basis of Israel's redemption but the entrance into a life lived in

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

Liberty University.

92 See the helpful discussion of G. Vox, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerd-

mans, 1954) 124-29. See also E. Martens, God's Design (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981)

81-91, 208.



This is apparent not only from the account of the exodus from Egypt,

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 4:37-40; 5:27-

29; 10: 12-21; 12:28; 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

Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and

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 Israel knew about God through his activity in

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 18:13; 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 11:44; 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 Israel to return to her God and the psalmists in their

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.



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 10:10).




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 Israel in the movement from

Egypt to Canaan. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that the meaning

of that great exodus event, starting from the deliverance out of Egypt

and stretching to the conquest, continued to be sung in non-canonical

and canonical settings down through Israel's history, becoming par-

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 Israel, our earliest Biblical sources which

survive in unrevised form, is marked by a ubiquitous motif: the march

of Yahweh from the southern mountains (or from Egypt) with his

heavenly armies.97


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

5:48), holiness (l Pet 1:16), and truth and love (Eph 4:15-16).

97 Cross, "The Divine Warrior in Israel's Early Cult," 25.



(3:15-16), Amos (1:2; 4:13b; 8:8;9:5-6), and Isaiah (e.g., 17:13; 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

Israel. Even the introduction (ver. 3) has its roots in the song of Moses

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 3:16). 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 Israel's central experience of deliverance, the

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.



Habakkuk had asked that-beyond whatever judgment Israel

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 3:16-19). 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 redeemed Israel from Egypt, He will

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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