Pulpit Commentary - Habakkuk 1:1 - 1:17

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Pulpit Commentary - Habakkuk 1:1 - 1:17

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Verse 1:1-2:20



§ 1. The inscription of the book. The burden (see note on Nah_1:1). The prophet (Hab_3:1). This title, which is added in the inscriptions only to the names of Haggai and Zechariah, and cursorily to that of Jeremiah (46, 47; 50.), implies that he exercised the practical office of prophet, and was well known; and, as Pusey thinks, Habakkuk appended it hero on account of the form in which his prophecy is cast, as being addressed almost entirely to God or the Chaldeans, not to his own people. Did see. In prophetic vision (see note on Amo_1:1).


2. The prophet complains to God of the iniquity of his own nation, and its consequence.


Shall I cry; Septuagint, κέκραξομαι . The Hebrew is taken to imply that the prophet had long been complaining of the moral depravity of Judah, and calling for help against it There is no reference here, as Ewald fancies, to acts of violence committed by the Chaldeans, who, in fact, are announced as coming to chastise the wickedness of the chosen people (Hab_1:6). And thou wilt not hear! The continuance of evil unchecked is an anomaly in the prophet's eye; and, putting himself in the position of the righteous among the people, he asks how long this is to last. Even cry out unto thee of violence; better, I cry out unto thee, Violence. A similar construction is found in Job_19:7; Jer_20:8. "Violence" includes all manner of wrong done to one's neighbour. Septuagint, Βοήσομαι πρὸς σὲ ἀδικούμενος , "I will cry unto thee being wronged," as if the wrong was done to the prophet himself. So the Vulgate, Vociferabor ad te vim patiens. But Habakkuk doubtless speaks in the person of the righteous, grieved at the wickedness he sees around, and the more perplexed as the Law led him to look for temporal rewards and punishments, if in the case of individuals, much more in that of the chosen nation (Lev_26:1-46; passim).


Why dost thou show me—Why dost thou let me see daily with my own eyes—iniquity abounding, the very evil which Balaam says (Num_23:21) the Lord had not found in Israel? Cause me to behold grievance. This should be, Dost thou look upon perverseness? He asks how God can look on this evil and leave it unpunished. The LXX. and the Vulgate translate the word amal "trouble," or "labour;" Keil, "distress." In this case it means the trouble and distress which a man inflicts on others, as wrong doing seems to be generally spoken of. Spoiling and violence are before me. "Spoiling" is robbery that causes desolation. "Violence" is conduct that wrongs one's neighbour. The two words are often joined; e.g. Jer_6:7; Amo_3:10. Vulgate, praedam et injustitiam. These are continually coming before the prophet's eyes. There are that raise up strife and contention; better, there is strife, and contention is raised. This refers to the abuse of the Law by grasping, quarrelsome nobles. Septuagint, "Against me judgment hath gone, and the judge receiveth bribes." So the Syriac and Arabic. The Vulgate gives, Factum est judicium, et contradictio potentior, where judicium is used in a bad sense.


Therefore. Because God has not interfered to put an end to this iniquity, or because of the want of righteous judges, the following consequences ensue. The Law is slacked. The Law. Torah, the revealed code which governed the moral, domestic, and political life, "is chilled," is benumbed (Gen_45:26), is no longer of any force or efficacy, is become a dead letter. Διασκέδασται "is dispersed"; lacerata est (Vulgate). Judgment doth never go forth; i.e. right is powerless, as if it had never been; justice never shows itself in such a case. Septuagint, οὐ διεξάγεται εἰς τέλος , "proceedeth not effectually; ' so the Vulgate. The rendering, "goeth not forth unto victory," given by the Syriac, is not so suitable; "unto truth" is a mistake arising from referring the word to a wrong root. Doth compass about. In a hostile sense, with threats and treachery (Jdg_20:43; Psa_22:13). Septuagint, καταδυναστεύει , "prevails;" Vulgate, praevalet adversus. Therefore. Because the righteous are unable to act as they desire, being opposed by the wicked. Wrong judgment proceedeth; rather, judgment goeth forth perverted. Eight, or what is so called, when it does come forth, is distorted, wrested, so as to be right no more.


§ 3. To this appeal answers that he will send the Chaldeans to punish the evil doers with a terrible vengeance; but rinse, his instruments, shall themselves offend by pride and impiety.


Behold ye among the heathen; the nations. God, in answer, bids the prophet and his people look among the nations for those who shall punish the iniquities of which he complains. I will use a heathen nation, he says, as my instrument to chastise the sinners in Judaea; and you shall see that I have not disregarded the evil that is rife among you. Some commentators suppose that the impious are addressed; but Habakkuk spoke in the name and person of the righteous, and to them the answer must be directed. The LXX, gives, Ἴδετε , οἱ καταφρονηταί , "Behold, ye despisers," which is justifiable. St. Paul quotes the Greek Version, Act_13:41, in his sermon at Antioch in the Jewish synagogue, warning those who despised the gospel This was sufficiently close to the Hebrew for his purpose. And regard, and wonder marvellously. They are to wonder because the work is as terrible as it is unexpected. The LXX. (quoted by St. Paul, loc. cit.) adds, καὶ ἀφανίσθητε , "and perish," or rather, "be stupefied by astonishment," die of amazement. I will work; I work. The pronoun is not expressed, but must be supplied from Act_13:6. It is God who sends the avengers. In your days. The prophet had asked (Act_13:2), "How long?" The answer is that those now living should see the chastisement (see Introduction, § III.). Which ye will not believe. If ye heard of it as happening elsewhere, ye would not give credit to it; the punishment itself and its executors are both unexpected (comp. Lam_4:12).


The executors of the Divine vengeance are now plainly announced. I raise up. God does it; he uses the power and passion of men to work out his designs (1Ki_11:14, 1Ki_11:23; Amo_6:14). The Chaldeans; Kasidim. By this appellation the prophets signify the soldiers or inhabitants of Babylon, which won its independence and commenced its wonderfully rapid career of conquest after the tall of Nineveh, between B.C. 626 and 608. At the time when Habakkuk wrote the Chaldeans had not appeared in Judaea, and no apprehension of danger from them was entertained. Bitter and hasty. The former epithet refers to their cruelty and ferocity (comp. Isa_14:6; Jer_6:23; Jer_50:42). They are called "hasty," as being vehement and impetuous in attack and rapid in movement. Which shall march through the breadth of the land; which marcheth through the breadths of the earth. The statement explains the general character of the Chaldeans, and points to the foreign conquests of Nebuchadnezzar. LXX; Τὸ πορευόμενον ἐπὶ τὰ πλάτη τῆς γῆς (comp. Rev_20:9).


They. The Hebrew is singular throughout. The disposition of the people, as of one man, is depicted. Terrible; exciting terror, as Son_6:4, Son_6:10. Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves; his judgment and his eminence are from himself. The LXX. translates the two nouns κρίμα and λῆμμα : Vulgate, judicium and onus. The meaning is that the Chaldeans own no master, have no rule of right but their own will, attribute their glory and superiority to their own power and skill (comp. Dan_4:1-37 :130). They are like Achilles in Horace, 'Ep. ad Pison.,' 121, etc.—

"Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,

Jura neget sibi nata, nihil non arroget armis

Hitzig quotes AEschyl. 'Prom.,' 186, Παρ ἑαυτῷ τό δίκαιον ἔχων , "Holding as justice what he deemeth so."


Their horses, etc. Jeremiah (Jer_4:13) compares their horses to eagles (comp. Job_39:19, etc.). The punishment predicted in Deu_28:49, etc; is to come upon the Jews. We often read of the cavalry and chariots of the Chaldeans (Jer_4:29; Jer_6:23; Eze_23:23, Eze_23:24). Evening wolves. Wolves that prowl for food in the evening, and are then fiercest (Jer_5:6; Zep_3:3). Septuagint (with a different pointing), "wolves of Arabia." Their horsemen shall spread themselves. The verb is also rendered, "bear themselves proudly," or "gallop." Septuagint, ἐξιππάσονται . The Anglican Version seems correct implying that the cavalry, like Cossacks or Uhlans, swept the whole country for plunder. The verbs throughout Deu_28:8-11 should be rendered in the present tense. From far. From Babylonia (Isa_39:3). The preceding clause was of general import; the present one refers to the invasion of Judaea. As the eagle. This is a favourite comparison of Jeremiah, as quoted above (comp. also Jer_48:40; Jer_49:22; Lam_4:19).


They shall come all for violence. All, every one of the invaders, come for violence—to repay that violence of which Habakkuk complained (verse 2). Septuagint, Συντέλεια εἰς ἀσεβεῖς ἥξει , "An end shall come upon the impious;" Vulgate, Omnes ad praedam venient. Their faces shall sup up as the east wind. The word translated "shall sup up" occasions perplexity, being an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον . The Anglican rendering is virtually supported by other versions, e.g. Symmachus, Chaldee, and Syriac. The Vulgate, too, gives, facies eorum ventus urens, which Jerome explains, "As at the blast of a burning wind all green things dry up, so at the sight of these men all shall be wasted." This is the meaning of the Anglican Version, which, however, might be improved thus: The aspect of their faces is as the east wind. The Revisers have, Their faces are set eagerly as the east wind, which does not seem very intelligible. Other renderings are, "the endeavour," or "desire of their faces is directed to the east," or "forwards." (This rendering has the support of Orelli and others.) "The crowd of their faces," as equivalent to "the multitude of the army" which is not a Hebrew phrase found elsewhere. Septuagint, ἀνθεστηκότας (agreeing with ἀσεβεῖς in the first clause) προσώποις αὐτῶν ἐξεναντίας , "resisting with their adverse front." The effects of the east wind are often noted in Scripture; e.g. Gen_41:6, Gen_41:23; Job_27:21; Hos_13:15. They shall gather the captivity as the sand. "He collects the captives as sand"—a hyperbolical expression to denote the numbers of captives and the quantity of booty taken. The mention of the east wind brings the thought of the terrible simoom, with its columns of sand.


And they shall scoff, etc.; it, or he, scoffeth at kings. The Chaldean nation makes light of the power and persons of kings. Compare Nebuchadnezzar's treatment of Jehoiakim (2Ch_36:6; 2Ki_24:1, 2Ki_24:3; Jer_22:19) and Jehoiachin (2Ki_24:12, 2Ki_24:15). They shall deride every strong hold. The strongest fortress is no impediment to them. They shall heap dust. This refers to the raising of a mound or embankment for the purpose of attacking a city. In the Assyrian monuments one often sees representations of these mounds, or of inclined planes constructed to facilitate the approach of the battering ram.


Then shall his mind change; Τότε μεταβαλεῖ τὸ πνεῦμα ; Tunc mutabitur spiritus (Vulgate). From the ease and extent of his conquests the Chaldean gains fresh spirit. But it is best to translate differently, Then he sweepeth on as a wind. The Chaldean's inroad is compared to a tempestuous wind, which carries all before it. And he shall pass over. This is explained to mean, he exceeds all limits in his arrogancy, or he passes onward through the land. The former interpretation regards what is coming, the latter keeps to the metaphor of the wind. And offend. He is guilty, or offends, as the next clause explains, by attributing his success to his own prowess and skill. Thus the prophet intimates that the avenger himself incurs God's displeasure, and will suffer for it. Septuagint, καὶ ἐξιλάσεται , which St. Cyril interprets to mean that the Lord will change his purpose of punishing the Jews, and will have mercy on them—a notion quite foreign to the purport of the sentence. Imputing this his power unto his god; more literally, this his power is his god; Revised Version, even he whose might is his god. He defies the Lord, and makes his might his god. (For such pride and self-glorification, setup. Isa_14:13; Isa_47:7, etc.; Dan_4:30.) Thus Mezentius, the despiser of the gods, speaks in Virgil, 'AEn.,' 10:773—

"Dextra mihi deus et telum, quod missile libro,

Nunc adsint!

Comp. Statius, 'Theb.,' 3.615—

"Virtus mihi numen, et ensis, Quem teneo."


§ 4. The prophet, in reply, beseeches the Lord not to suffer his people to perish, seeing that he has deigned to be in covenant with them, but to remember mercy even during the affliction at the hand of their rapacious enemies.


Habakkuk calls to mind God's immutability and his covenant with Israel. Art thou not from everlasting, etc.? An affirmative answer is expected. This is one ground of confidence in the corrective nature of the chastisement. God is Jehovah, the covenant God, who has been in personal relation to Israel from time immemorial, and is himself eternal. Mine Holy One. He speaks in the person of the righteous people, and he refers to God's holiness as a second ground of hope, because, although God must punish sin, he will not let the sacred nation, the chosen guardian of the faith, perish utterly. And then he expresses this confidence: We shall not die. We shall be chastened, but not killed. The Masorites assert that the present reading is a correction of the scribes for "thou wilt not die," which the prophet wrote originally, and which was altered for reverence' sake. But this is a mere assumption, incapable of proof. Its adoption would be an omission of the very consolation to which the prophet's confidence leads. Thou hast ordained them (him) for judgment. Thou hast appointed the Chaldean to execute thy corrective punishment on Israel (comp. Jer_46:28). Others take the meaning to be—Thou hast predestined the Chaldean to be judged and punished This is not so suitable in this place. O mighty God; Hebrew, O Rock—an appellation applied to God, as the sure and stable Resting place and Support of his people (Deu_32:4, Deu_32:15, Deu_32:37; Psa_18:2, Psa_31:3; Isa_17:10). Thou hast established them (him) for correction. Thou appointedst the Chaldean, or madest him strong, in order to correct thy people. He is, like the Assyrian, the rod of God's anger (Isa_10:5). Septuagint, Επλασέ με τοῦ ἐλέγχειν παιδείαν αὐτοῦ , "He formed me to prove his instruction." This, says St. Jerome, is spoken in the person of the prophet announcing his call and office.


Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil (comp. Hab_1:3). God cannot look with complacency on evil (Psa_5:5, Psa_5:6). Iniquity; Septuagint, πόνους ὀδύνης , "labours of pain." Injustice and the distress occasioned by it. God's holiness cannot endure the sight of wickedness, nor his mercy the sight of man's misery. And yet he permits these evil men to afflict the holy seed. This is the prophet's perplexity, which he lays before the Lord. Them that deal treacherously. The Chaldeans, so called from their faithless and rapacious conduct (Isa_21:2; Isa_24:16). More righteous. The Israelites, wicked as they were, were more righteous than the Chaldeans (comp. Eze_16:51, etc.). Delitzsch and Keil think that the persons intended are the godly portion of Israel, who will suffer with the guilty.


The prophet appeals movingly to God by showing the indignity with which the people are treated. As the fishes of the sea. Dumb and helpless, swept off by the fisherman. That have no ruler ever them. None to guide and protect them (comp. Pro_6:7; Pro_30:27). So the Jews seem to be deprived of God's care, and left to be the prey of the spoiler, as if of little worth, and no longer having God for their King (comp. Isa_63:19, Revised Version). The "creeping things" are worms, or small fish (Psa_104:25).


They take up all men with the angle; he bringeth up all together with the hook (Amo_4:2) The net. Any kind of net. Septuagint, ἄμφίβληστνον ," cast net." The drag ( σαγήνη ). The large drag net. At their own pleasure, unhindered, the Chaldeans make whole nations their prey, their fishing implements being their armies, with which they gather unto themselves countries, peoples, and booty.


Therefore they sacrifice unto their net. This is spoken metaphorically, implying that the Babylonians recognized not God's hand, but attributed their success to the means which they employed (comp. Hab_1:11; Isa_10:13 etc.). There is no trace in the monuments of the Chaldeans paying divine honours to their weapons, as, accord-lug to Herodotus (4:62), the Scythians and other nations did (see Justin, 'Hist.,' 43:3; and Pusey's note here). What a man trusts in becomes a god to him. Their portion is fat; his portion is rich. He gains great wealth. Their meat plenteous; his meat dainty. He is prosperous and luxurious.


Shall they therefore empty their net? Because they have had this career of rapine and conquest, shall God allow them to continue it? Shall they be permitted to be continually emptying their net in order to fill it again? The idea is that they carried off their booty and captives and secured them in their own territory, and then set out on new expeditions to acquire fresh plunder. The question is answered in the next chapter, where the judgment on the Chaldeans is pronounced. And not spare continually to slay the nations? And cease not to send forth his armies and to found his empire in the blood of conquered nations. The Septuagint and Vulgate have no interrogation, the assertion being made by way of expostulation.



A prophet's burden.


1. His name. Habakkuk—"Embracing," which might signify either "one who embraces" or "one who is embraced." Accepting the former sense, Luther notes the suitability of the prophet's name to his office. "He embraces his people (in his prophecy), and takes them to his arms; i.e. he comforts them, and lifts them up as one embraces a poor weeping child or man, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon;" though probably the name rather points to the character of the prophet's faith, which cleaved fast to the Lord amid the perplexity of things seen (Pusey).

2. His person. A Jewish prophet, belonging to the tribe of Levi, and officially qualified to take part in the liturgical service of the temple (Hab_3:19). Beyond this nothing is known of his history, the Jewish legends concerning him (consult Introduction) being absolutely worthless.

3. His date. Uncertain. Before the arrival of the Chaldeans in Judah (verse 6), and therefore before the third year of Jehoiakim (Dan_1:1); but whether in the reign of Manasseh (Havernick, Keil, Pusey), or in that of Josiah (Delitzsch), or in that of Jehoiakim (De Wette, Ewald, Umbreit, Hitzig, Bleek, Kleinert), is open to debate. That the Assyrians are not mentioned as a power seems to indicate that by this time Nineveh had fallen, which speaks for the third of the above dates; that the predicted judgment (verse 5) was to be so unlikely as barely to be credible favours a time while Babylon was yet subject to Assyria, and therefore a date in the reign of Manasseh. The moral and spiritual degeneracy of the age in which Habakkuk lived (verses 1-4) harmonizes less with the reign of Josiah than with that of Manasseh or Jehoiakim. The latter is supported by the fact that the Chaldeans appear to be depicted as already on their march (verse 6); the former by the circumstance that the judgment is represented as not immediately at hand, but only as certain to happen in the days of those to whom the prophet spoke (verse 5).


1. Its contents. As Nahum had predicted the destruction of Nineveh and the Assyrian power, which had carried the ten tribes into captivity (2Ki_17:6), so Habakkuk declares

(1) the judgment about to come upon the degenerate nation of Judah through the instrumentality of the Chaldeans; and

(2) the overthrow of the Chaldeans for their insatiableness, ambition, cruelty, treachery, and idolatry.

2. Its form. In the first two chapters the prophet sets forth his message in the form of a conversation between himself and Jehovah, the prophet addressing Jehovah in the language of complaint (verses 1-4) and challenge (verses 12-17), and Jehovah in return replying to his complaint (verses 5-11) and to his challenge (Hab_2:2-19). In the third chapter Habakkuk appends a prayer, which begins by supplicating mercy for the afflicted people of God (Hab_3:1, Hab_3:2), and quickly passes into a sublime description of Jehovah's coming in the glory of the Almighty (Hab_3:3-11) for the destruction of his foes (Hab_3:12-15) and the salvation of his people and his anointed (Hab_3:13). "The whole of the prophecy has an ideal stamp. Not even Judah and Jerusalem are mentioned, and the Chaldeans who are mentioned by name are simply introduced as the existing possessors of the imperial power of the world, which was bent upon the destruction of the kingdom of God, or as the sinners who swallow up the righteous man" (Keil).

3. Its style. The lofty sublimity of this brief composition, as regards both thought and expression, has been universally recognized. "His language is classical throughout His view and mode of presentation bear the seal of independent force and finished beauty" (Delitzsch). "Habakkuk bears not merely the prophet's mantle, but also the poet's wreath adorns his honourable head. He is a Jeremiah and an Asaph in one" (Umbrieit). "As regards force and fulness of conception and beauty of expression, he was certainly one of the most important among the prophets of the Old Testament" (Kleinert).

4. Its origin. No more in his case than in Nahum's was this political foresight, but inspiration. If this prophecy proceeded from the age of Manasseh, political foresight is simply out of the question as its explanation; if from the first years of Jehoiakim, it will be time enough to admit that political foresight could certainly predict a Babylonian invasion at a year's distance when it has been shown that modern statesmen can infallibly tell what shall be on the morrow. And, of course, if political foresight could not certainly predict the Babylonian invasion at one year's distance, still less could it announce a Babylonian overthrow at a distance of more than half a century. Political foresight, then, being an insufficient hypothesis, Divine inspiration should be frankly admitted. Like Nahum, Habakkuk "saw" the burden he delivered. In the New Testament the book is cited as inspired (Rom_1:17; Gal_3:11; Act_13:40, Act_13:41; Heb_10:38).


1. That future events are known to God—Divine foreknowledge.

2. That God can reveal these to men, should he so please—the possibility of revelation.

3. That those whom God selects to be his messengers nevertheless retain their individual and characteristic modes of thought and expression—inspiration not mechanical or uniform.


The lamentation of a good man.

I. OVER THE RELIGIOUS DEGENERACY OF HIS AGE. Not merely for himself, but as the representative of the godly remnant of Judah, Habakkuk expostulates with Jehovah concerning the wickedness of the times in which he lived. The picture he sets before Jehovah is one of deep national corruption, such as existed in the days of Jehoiakim (Jer_20:8; Jer_22:3, Jer_22:13-17). A picture of wickedness.

1. Great.

(1) Violence was abroad, as it had been in the days before the Flood (Gen_6:11), in the time of David (Psa_55:9), and even later in the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz (Mic_2:2; Mic_6:12), practising spoliation, causing distress, and producing devastation, as it did in the long past era of the patriarch of Uz (Job_24:1-25 :l-12), evoking strife and contention, perhaps partly through the natural resistance of good men defending their property, but just as likely through the spoliators quarrelling over their prey, leading to deceit and treachery in order to gain its unhallowed end, "the wicked compassing about the righteous," and "plotting against the just" (Psa_37:12).

(2) Iniquity abounded, and that amongst a people whose ideal vocation was holiness (Num_23:21); immoralities whose source was a perverse heart (Mat_15:19); such practices as were inconsistent with the professions and privileges of those who did them; iniquity, or that which was unequal, and therefore contrary to law and truth.

(3) The Law of God was fallen into disrespect. The Torah, or Divine, revealed Law, "which was meant to be the soul, the heart of political, religious, and domestic life" (Delitzsch), was slacked; it was benumbed or chilled, paralyzed through the moral and spiritual apathy of the nation, which gave it no response and yielded to it no obedience.

(4) Human justice was itself perverted. Just because men's hearts had declined from the love of God, and had ceased to respect his Law, judgment seldom or never proceeded forth against evil doers; or, if it did, it went forth perverted. When criminals were brought to trial, they could always secure a verdict in their favour.

2. Public. It was not merely a degeneracy, eating its way secretly into the vitals of the nation; the disease had already come to the surface. Vice and irreligion were not practised in private. Iniquity flaunted its robes openly in the eyes of passers by. The prophet saw it, looked upon it, felt himself surrounded by it. Spoiling and violence were before him; and sinners of every description around him.

3. Presumptuous. It was wickedness perpetrated, not merely against God's Law, but by God's covenanted people, in the face of remonstrances from God's prophets, and under the eye of God himself. The prophet states that Jehovah as well as he had beheld the wickedness complained of.

4. Inveterate. It was not a sudden outburst of moral and spiritual corruption, but a long continued and deeply rooted manifestation of national degeneracy, which had often sent the prophet to his knees, and caused him to cry for Divine interposition.


1. A frequent phenomenon. During the long antediluvian period Jehovah, apparently without concern, allowed mankind to degenerate; though he saw that the Wickedness of man was great in the earth (Gen_6:5), it was not till one man only remained righteous before him that he interposed with the judgment of a flood. From the era of the Flood downwards he "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Act_14:16). Job (Job_34:12) observed this to be the method of the Divine procedure in his day, Asaph in his (Psa_1:1-6 :21), Habakkuk in his; and today nothing can be more apparent than that it is not a necessary part of Heaven's plan that "sentence against an evil work" should be "executed speedily."

2. A perplexing mystery. That God cannot be indifferent to sin, to the wickedness of nations or to the transgressions of individuals, is self-evident; otherwise he could not be God (Psa_11:7; Psa_111:9; Psa_145:17; Isa_57:15; 1Pe_1:15; Rev_4:8). But that, loving righteousness and hating iniquity, he should seem to make no effort to protect, vindicate, strengthen, and diffuse the one, or to punish, restrain, and overthrow the other,—this is what occasions trouble to religious souls reflecting on the course of providence (Job_21:7; Psa_73:2). The solution of the problem can only be that, on the one hand, he deems it better that righteousness should be purified, tested, and established by contact with evil, while, on the other hand, it seems preferable to his wisdom and love that wickedness should have free scope to reveal its true character, and ample opportunity either to change its mind or to justify its final overthrow (see homily on verses 12-19).


1. Strange. Habakkuk had cried long and earnestly to Jehovah about the wickedness of his countrymen. If rivers of waters ran not down his eyes because they kept not Jehovah's Law, as the psalmist tells us was the case with him (Psa_119:136), and Jeremiah (Jer_9:1) wished that it could have been with him, long processions of greenings ascended from his bosom to the throne of God on that very account. Doubtless, also, he expostulated with Jehovah about his seeming indifference, saying, "How long, O Lord, will this wickedness prevail? and how long wilt thou be silent?" Yet was there "no voice, nor any that answered him," any more than if he bad been a worshipper of Baal (1Ki_18:26); and this although Jehovah was preeminently the Hearer of prayer (Psa_65:2), and had invited his people to call upon him in the day of trouble (Psa_1:1-6 :15).

2. Common. It is not wicked men alone whose prayers are denied—men like Saul (1Sa_28:6), and the inhabitants of Judah in the days of Isaiah (Isa_1:15) and of Jeremiah (Jer_11:14), but good men like Job (Job_30:20) and David (Psa_22:2) as well. As the Syro-Phoenician woman cried after Jesus, and was answered never a word (Mat_15:23), so many prayers ascend from the hearts of God's people to which, for a time at least, no response returns.

3. Valuable. Fitful to test the faith and sincerity of the petitioner, it is also admirably calculated to teach him the sovereignty of God in grace as well as in nature, to show him that, while God distinctly engages to answer prayer, he undertakes to do so only in his own time and way.


1. That no good man can be utterly indifferent to the moral and spiritual character of the age in which he lives.

2. That good men should bear the highest interests of their country before God upon their hearts in prayer.

3. That good men should never lose faith in two things—that God is on the side of righteousness, even when iniquity appears to triumph; and that God hears their prayers, even when he delays to answer or appears to deny them.


Judgment on the wing.


1. Its subjects. The land and people of Judah (Hab_1:6). These, though Jehovah's covenanted people, had declined from his worship, departed from his ways, dishonoured his Name. It was in the covenant that, under such circumstances, they should be chastised (2Sa_7:14; Psa_89:30); and Jehovah is never unmindful of his covenant engagements (Psa_111:5), if men are of theirs (2Ti_2:12, 2Ti_2:13).

2. Its Author. Jehovah. "The Judge of all the earth" (Gen_18:20), "his eyes behold and his eyelids try the children of men" (Psa_11:4), communities and nations no less than individuals (Psa_67:4). As "justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne" (Psa_89:14), so "all his ways are judgment" (Deu_32:4), and "the works of his hands are verity and judgment" (Psa_111:7). As the least significant occurrence (Mat_10:29), so the most momentous, cannot happen without the Divine permission. The Supreme is behind all second causes. He regulates the rise and fall of nations and kings (Job_12:23; Psa_75:7), the ebb and flow of ocean (Job_38:11), the movements of the heavenly bodies (Job_38:31-33), the growth and decay of flowers (Isa_40:7). When Nineveh is overthrown and Babylon raised up, Jehovah, unseen but all-powerful, is the prime Mover. When Judah or Israel is chastised, it is Jehovah s hand that holds the rod.

3. Its certainty. Being matter of clear and definite promise on the part of Jehovah: "I will work a work;" "Behold, I raise up the Chaldeans." So certain is Jehovah's future judgment of his enemies (Mal_3:5; Act_17:1-34 :81). This, like that, has no basis but Jehovah's announcement. That this will not fail may be inferred from the accomplishment of that.

4. Its vicinity. Close at hand. "Behold, I work a work in your days" obviously meant that within a generation at furthest the Divine stroke should descend on Judah, and that every person in the nation should regard it as near. In the same way are Christians directed to think of the judgment of the great day as at hand (Jas_5:9; 1Pe_4:7; Rev_22:12), though of that day and of that hour knoweth no man (Mar_14:1-72 :82) more than this, that it is certain (Job_21:30; Psa_1:4; Dan_7:10; Mat_25:32; Heb_9:27).

5. Its strangeness. It should be both startling and incredible.

(1) Startling. As to its Author, Jehovah; as to the quarter whence it should proceed, from among the heathen; as to the power by which it should be inflicted, the Chaldeans, when they might rather have expected the Assyrians (if Habakkuk prophesied under Manasseh) or the Egyptians (if he flourished in the first years of Jehoiakim); as to the suddenness with which it should spring forth, there being at the time when Habakkuk wrote no tokens of its coming discernible on the horizon. So will the judgment of the great day surprise the ungodly world and a sleeping Church (Mat_24:27 41; Mat_25:6; 1Th_5:2, 1Th_5:3; Rev_16:15).

(2) Incredible. So unlikely did a Chaldean invasion of Judaea seem, that Jehovah felt nothing but an actual experience of the same would ever convince his people of it. A simple fore-announcement of it would not suffice to carry conviction of its reality to their mind, although, of course, it should. That this was true, the reception accorded to Jeremiah's prediction of Nebuchadnezzar's appearance before Jerusalem showed (Jer_5:12; Jer_20:7, Jer_20:8; Jer_26:8-11). Up to the moment when the Chaldean armies arrived neither Jehoiakim nor his people would allow that a Chaldean conquest was so much as possible. Events, however, proved them to be in error. So the antediluvians knew not till the Flood came and took them all away (Mat_24:39). So shall the coming of the Son of man be (2Pe_3:1-10).

II. ITS INSTRUMENT INDICATED. (Verses 6-11.) This was the Chaldean or Babylonian power, at the time subject to Assyria, and not risen to the ascendency it afterwards enjoyed under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors. The prophet depicts it when raised up, not only into a nation, but against Judah by a sevenfold characteristic.

1. Its natural disposition. He calls it "a bitter and hasty nation," i.e. fierce and rough, heedless and rash, and represents it as marching through the breadth of the earth, impelled by covetousness, and making a way for itself by sheer brute force and violence—taking possession of dwelling places not its own.

2. Its formidable appearance. "They are," or he, i.e. the nation, is, "terrible and dreadful," by its very name and much more by its aspect and actions inspiring terror in the breasts of beholders.

3. Its presumptuous self-sufficiency. "Their judgment and dignity proceed from themselves;" i.e. conscious of its own strength, it determines for itself its own rule of right, and ascribes to itself its elevation above the other nations of the earth. This putting of self instead of God in the place of honour and scat of authority is the essence of all sin. Wicked men walk after the counsels and in the imaginations of their own evil hearts (Jer_7:24), and are prone to arrogate to themselves what should be rendered to God, viz. the glory of their successful achievements (Deu_8:17; Jdg_7:2).

4. Its military strength.

(1) Its horses swifter than leopards, lighter of foot than panthers, which spring with the greatest rapidity on their prey, and fiercer than evening wolves, or wolves going forth at eventide after having fasted all day—an emblem of ferocity applied to the judges of Judah (Zep_3:3).

(2) Its horsemen or warriors coming from afar and spreading themselves abroad—"Neither distance of march shall weary nor diffusion weaken them" (Pusey)—darting upon its foes like an eagle hasting to devour, a bird to which Nebuchadnezzar is compared (Jer_48:40; Lam_4:19; Eze_17:3; Dan_7:4).

(3) Both bent upon violence and having their faces set eagerly as the east wind, i.e. either set towards the front with determination, or like the east wind for devastation. Thus the characteristics of Babylonian warfare were—swiftness of movement, simultaneousness of action in the different parts of the army, unanimity of purpose, determination and ferocity, qualities the existence of which in them the monuments sufficiently attest.

5. Its warlike achievements.

(1) The deportation of subjected populations. "They gather captives as the sand," i.e. "countless as the particles which the east wind raises, sweeping over the sand wastes, where it buries whole caravans in one death" (Pusey).

(2) The defiance of all opposition. "Yea, he scoffeth at kings, and princes are a derision unto him." So Nebuchadnezzar did with Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah (2Ki_24:15; 2Ki_25:6, 2Ki_25:7; 2Ch_36:5-21).

(3) The capture of every stronghold. No fortress could withstand the Babylonian conqueror. Not even Tyre, "whose very name (Rock) betokened its strength" (Pusey). The most impregnable garrison seemed only to require that he should heap up a little dust against it, and it was taken,

6. Its daring impiety. Rushing on like a swollen torrent, like his own Euphrates when it overflows its banks, sweeping across the land like a tempestuous wind over the sandy desert, it overleaps all barriers and restraints both Divine and human, and stands convicted before God as a guilty transgressor.

7. Its shameless blasphemy. The culmination at once of its offence and of its guilt is that it deifies its own might, saying, "Lo, this my strength is my god!" Such was the spirit of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan_4:30) and of Belshazzar (Isa_14:14); such will be that of the future antichrist (2Th_2:4).


1. That if God's people sin they must look for chastisement (Deu_11:28; Psa_89:32).

2. That if God's people are chastised for their offences, God's enemies cannot hope to escape punishment for theirs (1Pe_4:17, 1Pe_4:18).

3. That God can always lay his hand upon an instrument wherewith to inflict punishment upon his people (Isa_10:5).

4. That wicked men and nations whom God employs in the execution of his judgments do not thereby escape responsibility for their own actions (Isa_10:12).

5. That the deification of self is the last delusion of a foolish heart (Gen_3:5).


The triumph of faith.

I. HABAKKUK'S GOD. (Hab_1:12, Hab_1:13.)

1. Eternal. From everlasting (Psa_93:2), and therefore to everlasting (Psa_90:1); hence immutable (Mal_3:6), without variableness or shadow cast by turning (Jas_1:17), in respect of his being (1Ti_1:17), character (Isa_63:16; Psa_111:3), purpose (Job_23:13), and promise (Heb_6:17).

2. Holy. In himself the absolutely and the only stainless One (Exo_15:11; Isa_6:3), and in all his self-manifestations (Job_34:10), in his ways and works (Psa_145:17) as well as words (Psa_33:4), equally immaculate, and necessarily so, since an unholy Divinity could not be supreme, he is "of purer eyes than to behold evil," and "cannot look upon iniquity" with indifference, and far less with favour (Psa_5:4; Jer_44:4).

3. Omniscient. Inferred from the fact that he beheld all the evil that was done beneath the sun, both in Judah by his own people (Hab_1:3) and among the nations by the Chaldeans (Hab_1:13). Omniscience a necessary attribute of the Supreme, and one much emphasized in Scripture (Pro_15:3; Job_28:24; 2Ch_16:9; Jer_32:19; Heb_4:13).

4. Omnipotent. This implied in his supremacy over the nations, raising up one power (the Chaldeans) and putting down another (Judah), giving the peoples into Nebuchadnezzar's net, and again hurling down Nebuchadnezzar's grandson from his seat of power. Also suggested by the designation "Rock," given him by Habakkuk, who meant thereby to teach the strength and steadfastness of Jehovah in comparison with the idols of the heathen, and his ability to shelter and defend those who trusted in him (Deu_32:4, Deu_32:15, Deu_32:18, Deu_32:30, Deu_32:31, Deu_32:37; Psa_18:2; Psa_28:1; Psa_31:3, etc.).

5. Gracious. He was such a God as had entered into covenant with the prophet, who accordingly styled him "my God," "mine Holy One." "My" is faith's response to God's grace in offering himself to man as a God (Exo_20:2).


1. A great mystery.

(1) Concerning Judah. Why God, being what he was, from everlasting, holy, etc; should suffer his people, who with all their faults were more righteous than their oppressors, to be trodden down, butchered, and driven off into captivity by the Chaldeans! Why, when he saw them humiliated and destroyed, he held his peace! Strange inconsistency of the human heart, especially when touched by grace. A little before (verse 3) the prophet had been concerned at God's silence about the wickedness of Judah; now, when God has spoken of raising up against that wickedness the Chaldean army, he is troubled that God should allow such cruelty to be perpetrated against the people of whom he had complained.

(2) Concerning the Chaldeans. Why God, being what he was, unchangeably pure and just as well as resistlessly powerful, should permit the heathen warrior to work such havoc among the nations of the earth, to practise such deception towards and cruelty, against them (verse 13), to angle them up like fishes out of the sea or catch them in his net (verse 15), to deprive them of their heads by carrying away their kings, and so to make them like the finny tribes that have no rulers over them (verse 14); and not only so, but to exult in his conquests and depredations, as if these were exclusively the result of his own power and skill; to "sacrifice unto his net, and burn incense unto his drag" (verse 16), thus making might his god (verse 11), and practically deifying himself.

2. An old problem. Habakkuk's perplexity was the same which from time immemorial has troubled thoughtful men, the dark enigma of providence—why good men should so frequently be crushed by misfortune, and wicked men so often crowned with prosperity. This mystery was a source of anxiety to Job (Job_12:6; Job_21:7-13), David (Psa_16:1-11 :14, 15), Asaph (Psa_73:1-13), Jeremiah (Jer_12:1), the Preacher (Ecc_7:15; Ecc_8:14), in the olden times; has caused much stumbling to good men since, and probably will do so while the world lasts.

3. A valuable discipline. Distressing as this mystery is, it is nevertheless not without its uses to such as are exercised thereby. It assists them to understand the sovereignty of God, that he giveth not account of any of his matters (Job_33:13); to realize their own limited and imperfect vision, which can only see in part, not in whole (Job_37:21; 1Co_13:9), only the middle and neither the beginning nor the end of God's work in providence; to cultivate those virtues of patience, humility, trustfulness, which are essential elements in all true goodness (Psa_37:3-5); and to seek their portion in God himself (Psa_16:5) rather than in earthly things (Psa_17:14), in the future world rather than in the present life (Col_3:2).


1. Concerning the righteous.

(1) Jehovah being what he was, it was impossible his people should be either cut or cast off. Habakkuk argued that Judah could not perish—"We shall not die"—because God lived and was holy. Jehovah sustained the argument by answering, in Mal_3:6, "I am the Lord,! change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed;" and Christ acknowledged its validity when he said to his disciple, "Because I live, ye shall live also" (Joh_14:19). This implies not exemption from physical suffering or death, as doubtless many Judaeans perished in the Chaldean conquest, but protection from that future and eternal death which is the last penalty of unrepanted and unforgiven sin. This the main consolation of a believer under suffering, that his covenant God hath said, "My mercy will I keep for him forevermore" (Psa_89:28), and that Christ hath declared, "My sheep shall never perish" (Joh_10:28).

(2) This being so, their sufferings must be designed only for their correction, not for their destruction, and accordingly should be regarded rather as fatherly chastisements than as penal inflictions. Habakkuk perceived that the Chaldean had been "ordained for judgment" and "raised up for correction," not commissioned for extermination. So the Christian discerns that "tribulation worketh patience," etc. (Rom_5:3); that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding, even an eternal weight of glory" (2Co_4:17); that present chastisements am intended for our future profit, "that we might be partakers of his holiness" (Heb_12:10), and that they might yield to us "the peaceable fruits of righteousness" (Heb_12:11); and in short, that suffering is the royal road to moral and spiritual perfection (Heb_2:10).

2. Concerning the wicked. Jehovah being what he is, the wicked cannot be allowed to go on always as they are. "Shall he," the Chaldean, "therefore empty his net" to fill it again? Is this process of angling and dragging for men and nations to go on forever? Shall he "not spare to slay the nations continually "? the prophet asks; meaning by the question, "No, verily, this must come to an end." And those who have reflected deepest on the problem have perceived that, at the longest, the triumph of the wicked is but short (Job_20:5; Psa_37:35, Psa_37:36; Psa_73:18-20), and that their experience of prosperity, however long it may be, will only in the end aggravate their misery, unless before the end they repent of their wickedness, and turn to God in faith, humility, love, and righteousness. "The immortal gods," wrote Julius Caesar, in his 'Gallic War' (Hab_1:14), "are accustomed, the more heavily to pain by reverse of fortune those of whom for their wickedness they wish to be avenged, to grant to them in the mean while a larger sham of prosperity and a longer period of impunity."


1. That the good man's best comfort in affliction and stay in adversity is the character of God (Deu_33:27; Isa_52:1-15 :21; 2Co_1:3).

2. That with God silence is not to be understood as equivalent to consent (Psa_1:1-6 :21).

3. That it is God's custom to make men reap as they have sown, to reward perverseness with perverseness, and iniquity with iniquity (Psa_18:26; Mat_7:2; Gal_6:7).

4. That governments tend to the good order of society, and are to be respected and obeyed even when not perfect (Rom_13:1, Rom_13:2).

5. That the reign of wickedness will one day terminate (Psa_145:20; Mat_21:11; 1Co_15:25).



The title.

This introduces us to the writer and his work. Note—

I. HIS NAME. Habakkuk i.e. "One who embraces"—a name singularly appropriate in its significance to the man who "rested in the Lord, and waited patiently for him" through the dark days. Luther applied the name to the prophet's regard for his people, "embracing them, taking them to his arms, comforting them, and lifting them up as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon." Jewish tradition has identified him with the son of the Shunammite woman (2Ki_4:18), and with the watchman sent by Isaiah to the watch tower (21) to look towards Babylon. But with these and other merely fanciful and utterly unreliable traditions the silence of Scripture very favourably contrasts. It makes him known to us through his teaching. It is the message rather than the messenger that is presented to us here; yet through the message we get to know the man so intimately that he becomes to us quite a familiar presence.

II. HIS OFFICE. "Habakkuk the prophet." This title clearly indicates that he had been appointed to the prophetical office. Many men in Old Testament times uttered certain prophecies, as for instance Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, but we do not find the title "the prophet" appended to their names, it being given simply to such as were specially chosen and set apart to this office. The closing words of the book (Hab_3:19) have led some to regard him as belonging to one of the Levitical families, and as appointed to take part in the liturgical services of the temple; but of this we cannot speak with any degree of certainty, though probably it was so.

III. HIS PROPHECY. This is described as "the burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." The phrase is peculiar, but the meaning is clear. He saw a vision of coming events, in which solemn Divine judgments would be executed both against his own people and their oppressors; and the scene of impending woe oppressed his spirit and lay as a heavy weight upon his soul. Still, dark as the outlook was, and oppressed in heart as he felt himself to be amidst the mysteries of life viewed in relation to the Divine government, he maintained throughout unswervingly his trust in God; and which so clearly pervaded his spirit and so repeatedly revealed itself in his expressions as amply to justify the representation that he is "eminently the prophet of reverential, awe-filled faith." Viewed from a literary standpoint, his prophecy may well exite our profoundest interest. Critical writers with one consent bear testimony to the beauty of his contributions to these sacred oracles. Ewald calls the book "Habakkuk's Pindaric Ode." Delitzsch says of it, "His language is classical throughout, full of rare and select words and turns, which are to some extent exclusively his own, whilst his view and mode of presentation bear the seal of original force and finished beauty." Pusey observes, "Certainly the purity of his language and the sublimity of his imagery is, humanly speaking, magnificent; his measured cadence is impressive in its simplicity." But valuable as this composition is in this respect, its great charm consists in the spirit of holy trustfulness which it breathes. As we ponder over its contents we feel at every stage our lack of confidence in our God reproved, and are impelled to cry, "Lord, we believe: help thou our unbelief" (Mar_9:24); "Lord, increase our faith" (Luk_17:5).—S.D.H.


The elegy.

In this brief and plaintive strain we have—

I. AN EARNEST HEART REFLECTING UPON THE PREVAILING INIQUITY. Whatever may have been the exact date of this prophecy, it is clear that the writer stood connected with the close of the kingdom of Judah, the eve of the Captivity, and that he presents to us, in a few graphic touches, a vivid description of the depravity then prevailing in the land. He bitterly laments over:

1. The insecurity of property. "Spoiling and violence are before me" (Hab_1:3).

2. The strifes of parties and factions. "And there are that raise up strife and contention" (Hab_1:3).

3. Laxity in the administration of the Law. "The Law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth" (Hab_1:4).

4. The good suffering unjustly at the hands of the evil. "The wicked doth compass about the righteous " (Hab_1:4).

5. The openness and audacity of wrong doers in this evil course. He speaks of all this iniquity as being patent to the observer. Sometimes, "vice, provoked to shame, borrows the colour of a virtuous deed;" but in this instance there Has no attempt at concealment or disguise, and no sense of shame. "Spoiling and violence are before me" (Hab_1:3).

II. AS EARNEST HEART YEARNING FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND IMPATIENT OF DELAY. The life of piety is undoubtedly the happy life (Psa_1:1). Still, it is not always sunshine, even with the good. There are times in their experience when the sky becomes overcast, and when they become depressed and sad at heart. Although possessing "the firstfruits of the Spirit," the pledge and the earnest of the enjoyment at length of a fulness of blessing, they often "groan within themselves" (Rom_8:23). And a very large ingredient in the cup of sorrow the good have to drink is that occasioned by beholding the blighting effects of sin. As they witness men unprincipled in their dealings, impure in their speech, dishonourable in their transactions, and as they note the pernicious influence and effects of such conduct, their hearts are rendered sad, and they are constrained to long ardently for the time when sin shall be completely vanquished, when it shall be banished from this fair universe of God, and when there shall come in all its perfection the reign of truth and righteousness, peace and love. This spirit runs through the prophet's mournful strain (Hab_1:2-4). We recognize it also in the words of David, "Oh let the wickedness of the wicked!" etc. (Psa_7:9), and of Jeremiah (Jer_14:8, Jer_14:9), and impelled by it many are crying today, "Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?"

III. AN EARNEST HEART DIRECTING ITS IMPASSIONED APPEAL TO GOD IN PRAYER. (Verse 2.) The seer did not question the Divine rectitude, but his spirit was perturbed at the delay, and he yearned with a holy impatience for the vindication of the honour of his God. And under such conditions no course is so commendable as that of pouring our plaint into the ear of Infinite Love. Prayer at such seasons will be found helpful:

1. In tranquillizing the spirit, quieting and subduing agitation, and imparting a sense of restfulness and peace.

2. In linking our human weakness to God's almighty strength, and thus fitting us for reviewed service to him. "Toil, pain, doubt, terror, difficulty,—all retreat before the recognition of a great life purpose wrought out in entire dependence upon Heaven."

3. In causing light to shine through the dark cloud of mystery, helping us to understand the Divine plan (Psa_73:16, etc.), and so preparing the way for our exchanging the mournful elegy for the rapturous melody of