It has been the usual practice of God’s people, when they have been in distress and ready to fall into despair, to help themselves by recollecting their experiences, and reviving them, considering the days of old, and the years of ancient times (Ps. 77:5), and pleading with God in prayer, as he is pleased sometimes to plead them with himself. Isa. 63:11; Then he remembered the days of old. This is that which the prophet does here, and he looks as far back as the first forming of them into a people, when they were brought by miracles out of Egypt, a house of bondage, through the wilderness, a land of drought, into Canaan, then possessed by mighty nations. He that thus brought them at first into Canaan, through so much difficulty, can now bring them thither again out of Babylon, how great soever the difficulties are that lie in the way. Those works of wonder, wrought of old, are here most magnificently described, for the greater encouragement to the faith of God’s people in their present straits.
I. God appeared in his glory, so as he never did before or since (Hab. 3:3, 4): He came from Teman, even the Holy One from Mount Paran. This refers to the visible display of the glory of God when he gave the law upon Mount Sinai, as appears by Deut. 33:2 whence these expressions are borrowed. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai in a cloud (Exod. 19:20) and his glory was as the devouring fire, not only to enforce the law he then gave them, but to avow the deliverance he had wrought for them and to magnify it; for the first word he said there was, “I am the Lord thy God, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt. I that appear in this glory am the author of that work.” Then his glory covered the heavens, which shone with the reflection of that glorious appearance of his; the earth also was full of his praise, or of his splendour, as some read it. People at a distance saw the cloud and fire on the top of Mount Sinai, and praised the God of Israel. Or the earth was full of those works of God which were to be praised. His brightness was as the light, as the light of the sun when he goes forth in his strength; he had horns, or bright beams (so it should be rendered), coming out of his side or hand. Rays of glory were darted forth around him; and with some rays borrowed thence it was that Moses’s face shone when he came down from that mount of glory. Some by the horns, the two horns (for the word is dual), coming out of his hand, understand the two tables of the law, which perhaps, when God delivered them to Moses, though they were tables of stone, had a glory round them; those books were gilt with beams, and so it agrees with Deut. 33:2; From his right hand went a fiery law for them. It is added, And there was the hiding of his power; there was his hidden power, in the rays that came out of his hand. The operations of his power, compared with what he could have done, were rather the hiding of it than the discovery of it; the secrets of his power, as well as of his wisdom, are double to that which is, Job 11:6.
II. God sent plagues on Egypt, for the humbling of proud Pharaoh, and the obliging of him to let the people go (Hab. 3:5): Before him went the pestilence, which slew all the first-born of Egypt in one night; and burning coals went forth at his feet, when, in the plague of hail, there was fire mingled with hail—burning diseases (so the margin reads it), some think those that wasted Egypt, others those with which the number of the Canaanites was diminished before Israel was brought in up on them. These were at his feet, that is, at his coming, for they are at his command; he says to them, Go, and they go, Come, and they come, Do this, and they do it.
III. He divided the land of Canaan to his people Israel, and expelled the heathen from before them (Hab. 3:6): He stood, and measured the earth, measured that land, to assign it for an inheritance to Israel his people, Deut. 32:8, 9. He beheld, and drove asunder the nations that were in possession of it; though they combined together against Israel, God dispersed and discomfited them before Israel. Or he exerted such a mighty power as was enough to shake in pieces all the nations of the earth. Then the everlasting mountains were scattered, and the perpetual hills did bow; the mighty princes and potentates of Canaan, that seemed as high, as strong, and as firmly fixed, as the mountains and hills, were broken to pieces; they and their kingdoms were totally subdued. Or the power of God was so exerted as to shake the mountains and hills; nay, and Sinai did tremble, and the adjacent hills; see Ps. 68:7, 8. To this he adds, His ways are everlasting, that is, all the motions of his providence are according to his eternal counsels; and he is the same for ever, that which he was yesterday and to-day. His covenant is unchangeable, and his mercy endures for ever. When he drove asunder the nations of Canaan one might have seen the tents of Cushan in affliction, the curtains of the land of Midian trembling, and all the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries taking the alarm; and though they were not in the commission given to Israel to destroy, nor their land within the warrant given to Israel to possess, yet they thought their own house in danger when their neighbour’s house was on fire, and therefore they were in a great fright, Hab. 3:7. Balak the king of Moab was so, Num. 22:3, 4. Some make the tents of Cushan to be in affliction when, in the days of judge Othniel, God delivered Cushan-rishathaim into his hand (Jdg. 3:8), and the curtains of the land of Midian to tremble when, in the days of judge Gideon, a barley cake, in a dream, overthrew the tent of Midian, Jdg. 7:13.
IV. He divided the Red Sea and Jordan, when they stood in the way of Israel’s progress, and yet fetched a river out of a rock when Israel wanted it, Hab. 3:8. One would have thought that God was displeased with the rivers, and that his wrath was against the sea, for he made them give way and flee before him when he rode upon his horses and chariots of salvation, as a general at the head of his forces, mighty to save. Note, God’s chariots are not so much chariots of state to himself as chariots of salvation to his people; it is his glory to be Israel’s Saviour. This seems to be referred to again (Hab. 3:15): “Thou didst walk through the sea, through the Red Sea, with thy horses, in the pillar of cloud and fire (that was his chariot drawn by angels); thus thou didst walk secure, and so as to accommodate thyself to the slow pace that Israel could go, as Jacob tenderly drove, in consideration of his children and cattle: Thou didst walk through the heap, or mud, of great waters; and Israel likewise was led through the deep as a horse through the wilderness,” Isa. 63:13, 14. When they came to enter Canaan the overflowing of the water passed by, that is, Jordan, which at that time overflowed all his banks, was divided, Josh. 3:15. Note, When the difficulties in the way of perfecting the salvation of Israel seem most insuperable, when they rise to the height, and overflow, yet then God can put them by, break through them, and get over them. Then the deep uttered his voice, when, the Red Sea and Jordan being divided, the waters roared and made a noise, as if they were sensible of the restraint they were under from proceeding in their natural course, and complained of it. They lifted up their hands, or sides, on high (for the waters stood up on a heap, Josh. 3:16), as if they would have made opposition to the orders given them. They lifted up their voice, lifted up their waves; but in vain. The Lord on high was mightier than they, Ps. 93:3, 4. With the dividing of the sea and Jordan, notice is again taken of the trembling of the mountains, as if the stop given to the waters gave a shock to the adjacent hills; they are put together, Ps. 114:3, 4. When the sea saw it and fled, and Jordan was driven back, the mountains skipped like rams and the little hills like lambs. The whole creation yielded; earth and waters trembled at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the mighty God of Jacob. But (as Mr. Cowley paraphrases it)
Fly where thou wilt, thou sea; and, Jordan’s current, cease. Jordan, there is no need of thee; For at God’s word, whene’er he please, The rocks shall weep new waters forth instead of these.So here, Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers; channels were made in the wilderness, such as seemed to cleave the earth, for the waters to run in, which issued out of the rock, to supply the camp of Israel, and which followed them in all their removes. Note, The God of nature can alter and control the powers of nature, which way he pleases, can turn waters into crystal rocks and rocks into crystal streams.
V. He arrested the motion of the sun and moon, to befriend and complete Israel’s victories (Hab. 3:11): The sun and moon stood still at the prayer of Joshua, that the Canaanites might not have the benefit of the night to favour their escape; they stood still in their habitation in the heaven (Ps. 19:4), but with an eye to Gibeon and the valley of Ajalon, where God’s work was in the doing, and of which they, though at so vast a distance, attended the motions. At the light, at the direction, of thy arrows, they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear; they followed Israel’s arms, to favour them; according to the intimation of the arrows God shot (as Jonathan’s arrows, 1 Sam. 20:20), and which way soever his spear pointed (the glittering light of which they acknowledged to outshine theirs) that way they directed their influences, benign to Israel and malignant against their enemies, as when the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. Note, The heavenly bodies, as well as earth and seas, are at God’s command, and, when he pleases, at Israel’s service too.
VI. He carried on and completed Israel’s victories over the nations of Canaan and their kings; he slew great kings and famous, Ps. 136:17, 18. This is largely insisted upon here, as a proper plea with God to enforce the present petition, that he would restore them again to that land which they were, at the expense of so many lives, so many miracles, first put in possession of.
1. Many expressions are here used to set forth the conquest of Canaan. (1.) God’s bow was made quite naked, taken out of the case, to be employed for Israel; we should say, his sword was quite unsheathed, not drawn out a little way, to frighten the enemy, and then put up again, but quite drawn out, not to be returned till they are all cut off. (2.) He marched through the land from end to end, in indignation, as scorning to let that wicked generation of Canaanites any longer possess so good a land. He marched cum fastidio—with distaste (so some), despising their confederacies. (3.) He threshed the heathen in anger, trod them down, nay, he trod them out, as corn in the floor, to give them, and what they had, to be meat to his people Israel, Mic. 4:13. (4.) He wounded the heads out of the house of the wicked; he destroyed the families of the Canaanites, and wounded their princes, the heads of their families; nay, he cut off the heads, and so discovered the foundations of them, even to the neck. Are they a building? They are razed even to the foundation. Are they a body? They are plunged into deep mire even to the neck, so that they cannot get out, or help themselves. He broke the heads of leviathan in pieces, Ps. 74:14. Some apply this to Christ’s victories over Satan and the powers of darkness, in which he wounded the heads over many countries, Ps. 110:6. (5.) He struck through with his staves the head of the villages (Hab. 3:14); with Israel’s staves God struck through the head of the villages of the enemies, whether Egypt or Canaan. Staves shall do the same execution as swords when God pleases to make use of them. The enemy came out with the utmost force and fury, as a whirlwind to scatter me (says Israel); for many a time have they thus afflicted me, thus attacked me, from my youth, Ps. 129:1. Pharaoh, when he pursued Israel to the Red Sea, came out as a whirlwind; so did the kings of Canaan in their confederacies against Israel. Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly; they were as confident of success in their enterprise as ever any great man was of devouring a poor man, that was no way a match for him; and his design against him was carried on with secrecy. But God disappointed them, and their pride did but make their fall the more shameful and God’s care of his poor the more illustrious. (6.) He walked to the sea with his horses (so some read it, Hab. 3:15), that is, he carried Israel’s victories to the Great Sea, which was opposite to that side of Canaan at which they entered, so that they went quite through it, and made themselves masters of it all, or rather God made them so, for they got it not by their own sword, Ps. 44:3. Now,
2. There were three things that God had a eye to, in giving Israel so many bloody victories over the Canaanites:—(1.) He would hereby make good his promise to the fathers; it was according to the oaths of the tribes, even his word, Hab. 3:9. He had sworn to give this land to the tribes of Israel; it was his oath to Isaac confirmed to Jacob, and repeated many a time to the tribes of Israel, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan. This word God will accomplish, though Israel be ever so unworthy (Deut. 9:5) and their enemies ever so many and mighty. Note, What God does for his tribes is according to the oaths of the tribes, according to what he has said and sworn to them; for he is faithful that has promised. (2.) He would hereby show his kindness to his people, because of their relation to him, and his interest in them: Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, Hab. 3:13. All the powers of nature are shaken, and the course of nature changed, and every thing seems to be thrown into disorder, and all is for the salvation of God’s people. There are a people in the world who are God’s people, and their salvation is that which he has in his eye in all the operations of his providence. Heaven and earth shall sooner come together than any of the links in the golden chain of their salvation shall be broken; and even that which seems most unlikely shall by an overruling hand be made to work for their salvation, Phil. 1:19. (3.) He would hereby give a type and figure of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. It is for salvation with thy anointed, with Joshua, who led the armies of Israel and was a figure of him whose name he bore, even Jesus our Joshua. What God did for his Israel of old was done with an eye to his anointed, for the sake of the Mediator, who was both the founder and foundation of the covenant made with them. It was salvation with him, for in all the salvations wrought for them, God looked upon the face of the anointed, and did them by him.