We have here an answer to the prophet's complaint, giving him assurance that, though God bore long, he would not bear always with this provoking people; for the day of vengeance was in his heart, and he must tell them so, that they might by repentance and reformation turn away the judgment they were threatened with.
I. The preamble to the sentence is very awful (Hab 1:5): Behold, you among the heathen, and regard. Since they will not be brought to repentance by the long-suffering of God, he will take another course with them. No resentments are so keen, so deep, as those of abused patience. The Lord will inflict upon them, 1. A public punishment, which shall be beheld and regarded among the heathen, which the neighbouring nations shall take notice of and stand amazed at; see Deu 29:24, Deu 29:25. This will aggravate the desolations of Israel, that they will thereby be made a spectacle to the world. 2. An amazing punishment, so strange and surprising, and so much out of the common road of Providence, that it shall not be paralleled among the heathen, shall be sorer and heavier than what God has usually inflicted upon the nations that know him not; nay, it shall not be credited even by those that had the prediction of it from God before it comes, or the report of it from those that were eye-witnesses of it when it comes: You will not believe it, though it be told you; it will be thought incredible that so many judgments should combine in one, and every circumstance so strangely concur to enforce and aggravate it, that so great and potent a nation should be so reduced and broken, and that God should deal so severely with a people that had been taken into the bond of the covenant and that he had done so much for. The punishment of God's professing people cannot but be the astonishment of all about them. 3. A speedy punishment: “I will work a work in your days, now quickly; this generation shall not pass till the judgment threatened be accomplished. The sins of former days shall be reckoned for in your days; for now the measure of the iniquity is full,” Mat 23:36. 4. It shall be a punishment in which much of the hand of God shall appear; it shall be a work of his own working, so that all who see it shall say, This is the Lord's doing; and it will be found a fearful thing to fall into his hands; woe to those whom he takes to task! 5. It shall be such a punishment as will typify the destruction to be brought upon the despisers of Christ and his gospel, for to that these words are applied Act 13:41, Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish. The ruin of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans for their idolatry was a figure of their ruin by the Romans for rejecting Christ and his gospel, and it is a very marvellous thing, and almost incredible. Is there not a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?
II. The sentence itself is very dreadful and particular (Hab 1:6): Lo, I raise up the Chaldeans. There were those that raised up a great deal of strife and contention among them, which was their sin; and now God will raise up the Chaldeans against them, who shall strive and contend with them, which shall be their punishment. Note, When God's professing people quarrel among themselves, snarl at, and devour one another, it is just with God to bring the common enemy upon them, that shall make peace by making a universal devastation. The contending parties in Jerusalem were inveterate one against another, when the Romans came and took away their place and nation. The Chaldeans shall be the instruments of the destruction threatened, and, though themselves acting unrighteously, they shall execute the righteousness of the Lord and punish the unrighteousness of Israel. Now, here we have,
1. A description of the people that shall be raised up against Israel, to be a scourge to them. (1.) They are a bitter and hasty nation, cruel and fierce, and what they do is done with violence and fury; they are precipitate in their counsels, vehement in their passions, and push on with resolution in their enterprises; they show no mercy and they spare no pains. Miserable is the case of those that are given up into the hand of these cruel ones. (2.) They are strong, and therefore formidable, and such as there is no standing before, and yet no fleeing from (Hab 1:7): They are terrible and dreadful, famed for the gallant troops they bring into the field (Hab 1:8); their horses are swifter than leopards to charge and pursue, and more fierce than the evening wolves; and wolves are observed to be the most ravenous towards the evening, after they have been kept hungry all day, waiting for that darkness under the protection of which all the beasts of the forest creep forth, Psa 104:20. Their squadrons of horse shall be very numerous: “Their horse-men shall spread themselves a great way, for they shall come from far, from all parts of their own country, and shall be dispersed into all parts of the country they invade, to plunder it, and enrich themselves with the spoil of it. And, in making speed to spoil, they shall hasten to the prey (as those, Isa 8:1, margin), for they shall fly as the eagle towards the earth when she hastens to eat and strikes at the prey she has an eye upon.” (3.) Their own will is a law to them, and, in the fierceness of their pursuits, they will not be governed by any laws of humanity, equity, or honour: Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves, Hab 1:7. Appetite and passion rule them, and not reason nor conscience. Their principle is, Quicquid libet, licet - My will is my law. And, Sic volo, sic jubeo; stat pro ratione voluntas - This is my wish, this is my command; it shall be done because I choose it. What favour can be hoped for from such an enemy? Note, Those who have been unjust and unmerciful, among whom the law is slacked, and judgment doth not go forth, will justly be paid in their own coin and fall into the hands of those who will deal unjustly and unmercifully with them.
2. A prophecy of the terrible execution that shall be made by this terrible nation: They shall march through the breadth of the earth (so it may be read); for in a little time the Chaldean forces subdued all the nations in those parts, so that they seemed to have conquered the world; they overran Asia and part of Africa. Or, through the breadth of the land of Israel, which was wholly laid waste by them. It is here foretold, (1.) That they shall seize all as their own that they can lay their hands on. They shall come to possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs, which they have no right to, but that which their sword gives them. (2.) That they shall push on the war with all possible vigour: They shall all come for violence (Hab 1:9), not to determine any disputed right by the sword, but, right or wrong, to enrich themselves with the spoil. Their faces shall sup up as the east wind; their very countenances shall be so fierce and frightful that a look will serve to make them masters of all they have a mind to; so that they shall swallow up all, as the east wind nips and blasts the buds and flowers. Their faces shall look towards the east (so some read it); they shall still have an eye to their own country, which lay eastward from Judea, and all the spoil they seize they shall remit thither. (3.) That they shall take a vast number of prisoners, and send them into Babylon: They shall gather the captivity as the sand for multitude, and shall never know when they have enough, as long as there are any more to be had. (4.) That they shall make nothing of the opposition that is given to them, Hab 1:10. Do the distressed Jews depend upon their great men to make a stand, and with their wisdom and courage to give check to the victorious arms of the Chaldeans? Alas! they will make nothing of them. They shall scoff (he shall, so it is in the original, meaning Nebuchadnezzar, who being puffed up with his successes, shall scoff) at the kings and commanders of the forces that think to make head against him; and the princes shall be a scorn to them, so unequal a match shall they appear to be. Do they depend upon their garrisons and fortified towns? He shall deride every stronghold, for to him it shall be weak, and he shall heap dust, and take it; a little soil, thrown up for ramparts, shall serve to give him all the advantage against them that he can desire; he shall make but a jest of them, and a sport of taking them. (5.) By all this he shall be puffed up with an intolerable pride, which shall be his destruction (Hab 1:11): Then shall his mind change for the worse. The spirit both of the people and of the king shall grow more haughty and insolent. Those that will not be content with their own rights will not be content when they have made themselves masters of other people's rights too; but as the condition rises the mind rises too. This victorious king shall pass over all the bounds of reason, equity, and modesty, and break through all their bonds, and thereby he shall offend, shall make God his enemy, and so prepare ruin for himself by imputing this his power to his god, whereas he had it from the God of Israel. Bel and Nebo were the gods of the Chaldeans, and to them they gave the glory of their successes; they were hardened in their idolatry, and blasphemously argued that because they had conquered Israel their gods were too strong for the God of Israel. Note, It is a great offence (and the common offence of proud people) to take that glory to ourselves, or to give it to gods of our own making, which is due to the living and true God only. These closing words of the sentence give a glimpse of comfort to the afflicted people of God; it is to be hoped that they will change their minds, and grow better, and ripen for deliverance; and they did so. However, their enemies will change their minds, and grow worse, and ripen for destruction, which will inevitably come in God's due time; for a haughty spirit, lifted up against God, goes before a fall.