God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. (Habakkuk 3:3, K.J.V.)
Most of us have at one time or another asked, “Where did God come from?” Well, a few years ago a man pointed out to me that the Bible tells us exactly where God came from. As the fellow told me, “The Bible says that God came from Teman.” Obviously, the man didn’t understand the meaning of Habakkuk 3:3.
Teman was one of the largest cities in the nation of Edom, that nation that was founded by Esau and populated by his descendants. Edom was located in the wilderness region to the south of Israel, lying between Israel and Egypt. The city of Teman was named for Esau’s grandson, Teman (Genesis 36:11).
The Mount Paran that is also mentioned in Habakkuk 3:3 was located west of Teman. Paran was in the northern part of the Sinai Penisula, that region where Mount Sinai is located. Mount Sinai is, of course, where God imparted His law to Moses and the Israelites.
Knowing this background information helps us correctly understand Habakkuk 3:3. When the prophet says, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran,” he is referring to how God displayed awesome power in bringing the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage and to Mount Sinai. Actually, Habakkuk’s references to Teman and Mount Paran are only two of his references to this event. Two more are found in Habakkuk 3:7, where he says: “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble” (K.J.V.). Cushan refers to Ethiopia in northern Africa, and Midian was most likely located northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba near Edom. The point Habakkuk is making is that the reports of God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt by way of the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea caused fear among all the nations of that part of the world.
In describing how God delivered Israel from Egypt, Habakkuk poetically depicts God as being blindingly bright and having rays flashing from his hand (3:4). Pestilence went before Him and fever followed in His wake (3:5). The mountains scattered before Him and the hills bowed (3:6). On and on the description goes like that, and what Habakkuk wants is for God to once again display such awesome power in delivering Israel from her enemies. The New Living Translation catches the heart of Habakkuk’s desire by translating our text verse as follows:
I see God moving across the deserts from Edom, the Holy One coming from Mount Paran. His brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise.
You see, that man who told me, “The Bible says that God came from Teman” made the mistake of thinking the words “came from” somehow refer to God’s origin, as if the Bible was dropping a clue that God isn’t truly eternal. That mistake was simply one more example of how the Bible can be made to teach just about anything. That’s why we must be diligent to put in the necessary work to not just read the Bible but also study it and figure out what its words mean. Only then can we keep ourselves from believing wrong doctrines, doctrines such as God having an origin in Teman.