Pulpit Commentary - Habakkuk 2:1 - 2:20

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Pulpit Commentary - Habakkuk 2:1 - 2:20

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§ 5. The prophet, waiting for an answer to his expostulation, is bidden to write the oracle in plain characters, because its fulfilment is certain.


Habakkuk speaks with himself, and, mindful of his office, waits for the communication which he confidently ex-poets (Jer_33:3). I will stand upon my watch (Isa_21:6, Isa_21:8). As a watchman goes to a high place to see all around and discern what is coming, so the prophet places himself apart from men, perhaps in some secluded height, in readiness to hear the voice of God and seize the meaning of the coming event. Prophets are called "watchmen" (comp. Eze_3:17; Eze_33:2, Eze_33:6; Mic_7:4). The tower; i.e. watch tower, either literally or metaphorically, as in the first clause. Septuagint, πέτραν , "rook." What he will say unto me; quid dicatur mihi (Vulgate); τί λαλήσει ἐν ἐμοί , "what he will speak in me". He watches for the inward revelation which God makes to his soul (but see note on Zec_2:1-13 :0). When I am reproved; ad arguentem me (Vulgate); ἐπὶ τὸν ἔλεγχόν μου ; rather, to my complaint, referring to his complaint concerning the impunity of sinners (Hab_1:1-17 :18-17). He waits till he hears God's voice within him what answer he shall make to his own complaint, the expostulation which he had offered to God. There is no question here concerning the reproofs which others levelled against him, or concerning any rebuke conveyed to him by God—an impression given by the Anglican Version.


Jehovah answers the prophet's expostulation (Hab_1:12, etc.). Write. That it may remain permanently on record, and that, when it comes to pass, people may believe in the prophet's inspiration (Joh_13:19; comp. Isa_8:1; Isa_30:8; Jer_30:2; Rev_1:11). The vision (see Hab_1:1 : Oba_1:1). The word includes the inward revelation as well as the open vision. Upon tables; upon the tables (Deu_27:8); i.e. certain tablets placed in public places, that all might see and read them (see Isaiah, loc. cit.); Septuagint, εἰς πυξίον , "a boxwood tablet" The summary of what was to be written is given in Hab_2:4. This was to be "made plain," written large and legibly. Septuagint, σαφῶς . That he may run that readeth it. The common explanation of these words, viz. that even the runner, one who hastens by hurriedly, may be able to read it, is not borne out by the Hebrew, which rather means that every one who reads it may run, i.e. read fluently and easily. So Jerome, "Scribere jubetur planius, ut possit lector currere, et nullo impedimento velocitas ejus et legendi cupido teneatur." Henderson, comparing Dan_12:4, "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased," interprets the clause to signify that whosoever reads the announcement might run and publish it to all within his reach. "' To run,'" he adds, "is equivalent to 'to prophesy' in Jer_23:21," on the principle that those who were charged with a Divine message were to use all despatch in making it known. In the passage of Daniel, "to run to and fro," is explained to mean "to peruse."


For. The reason is given why the oracle is to be committed to writing. Is yet for an (the) appointed time. The vision will not be accomplished immediately, but in the period fixed by God (comp. Dan_8:17, Dan_8:19; Dan_11:27, Dan_11:35). Others explain, "pointeth to a yet future time." But at the end it shall speak. The verb is literally "breathes," or "pants;" hence the clause is better rendered, and it panteth (equivalent to hasteth) towards the end. The prophecy personified yearns for its fulfilment in "the end," not merely at the destruction of the literal Babylon, but in the time of the end—the last time, the Messianic age, when the world power, typified by Babylon, should be overthrown (see Daniel, loc cit.). And not lie; it deceiveth not; οὐκ εἰς κενόν , "not in vain". It will certainly come to pass. Wait for it. For the vision and its accomplishment. Because it will surely come. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:37) quotes the Septuagint Version of this clause, applying it to the last coming of Messiah Ὅτι (plus ὁ , Hebrew) ἐρχόμενος ἥξει καὶ οὐ μή χρονίσῃ ( οὐ χρονιεῖ , Hebrew); so the Vulgate, Veniens veniet, et non tardabit. The original passage does not primarily refer to the coming of Messiah, but as the full and final accomplishment of the prophecy doubtless belongs to that age, it is not a departure from the fundamental idea to see in it a reference hereto. It will not tarry; it will not be behindhand; it will not fail to arrive (Jdg_5:28; 2Sa_20:5).


§ 6. The great principle is taught that the proud shall not continue, but the just shall live by faith. The prophecy commences with a fundamental thought, applicable to all God's dealings with man. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; literally, behold, puffed up, his soul is not upright in him. This is a description of an evil character (especially of the Chaldean) in opposition to the character delineated in the following hemistich. One who is proud, presumptuous, thinks much of himself, despising others, and is not straightforward and upright before God, shall not live, shall not have a happy, safe life; he carries in himself the seeds of destruction. The result is not expressed in the first hemistich, but may be supplied from the next clause, and, as Knabenbauer suggests, may be inferred from the language in Heb_10:38, Heb_10:39, where, after quoting the Septuagint rendering of this passage, Ἐὰν ὑποστείληται οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ , the writer adds, "But we are not of them that shrink back ( ὑποσταλῆς ) unto perdition." Vulgate, Ecce, qui incredulus est, non erit recta anima ejus in semetipso, which seems to confine the statement to the ease of one who doubts God's word. But the just shall live by his faith. The "faith" here spoken of is a loving trust in God, confidence in his promises, resulting in due performance of his will. This hemistich is the antithesis to the former. The proud and perverse, those who wish to be independent of God, shall perish; but, on the other hand, the righteous shall live and be saved through his faith, on the condition that he puts his trust in God. The Hebrew accents forbid the union, "the just by faith," though, of course, no one can be just, righteous, without faith. The passage may be emphasized by rendering, "As to the just, through his faith he shall live." This famous sentence, which St. Paul has used as the basis of his great argument (Rom_1:17; Gal_3:11; comp. Heb_10:38), in its literal and contextual application implies that the righteous man will have perfect trust in God's promises and will be rewarded by being safe in the day of tribulation, with reference to the coming trouble at the hands of the Chaldeans. When the proud, greedy kingdom shall have sunk in ruin, the faithful people shall live secure. But the application is not confined to this circumstance. The promise looks beyond the temporal future of the Chaldeans and Israelites, and unto a reward that is eternal. We see how naturally the principle here enunciated is applied by the apostle to teach the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. The LXX. gives, Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεώς μου ζήσεται i,e. "by faith in me." The Speaker is God. St. Paul omits μου . Habakkuk gathers into one sentence the whole principle of the Law, and indeed all true religion.


§ 7. The character of the Chaldeans in some particulars is intimated. The general proposition in the former hemistich of Hab_2:4 is here applied to the Chaldeans, in striking contrast to the lot of the just in the latter clause. Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine. This should be, And moreover, wine is treacherous. A kind of proverbial saying (Pro_20:1). Vulgate, Quomodo vinum potantem decipit. There is no word expressive of comparison in the original, though it may be supplied to complete the sense. The intemperate habits of the Babylonians are well attested (see Dan_5:3, Dan_5:4; Quint. Curt; Dan_5:1, "Babylonii maxime in vinum et quae ebrietatem sequuntur effusi sunt;" comp. Her; 1.191; Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 7.5. 15). They used beth the fermented sap of the palm tree as well as the juice of the grape, the latter chiefly imported from abroad. "The wealthy Babylonians were fond of drinking to excess; their banquets were magnificent, but generally ended in drunkenness". Neither the Septuagint, nor the Syriac, nor the Coptic Version has any mention of wine in this passage. The Septuagint gives, ὁ δὲ κατοιόμενος καὶ καταφρονητής , "the arrogant and the scorner." He is a proud man, neither keepeth he at home; a haughty man, he resteth not. His pride is always impelling him to new raids and conquests. This is quite the character of the later Chaldeans, and is consistent with the latter part of the verse. The comparison, then, is this: As wine raises the spirits and excites men to great efforts which in the end deceive them, so pride rouses these men to go on their insatiate course of conquest, which shall one day prove their ruin. The verb translated "keepeth at home" has the secondary sense of "being decorous;" hence the Vulgate gives, Sic erit vir superbus, et non decorabitur; i.e. as wine first exhilarates and then makes a man contemptible, so pride, which begins by exalting a man, ends by bringing him to ignominy. Others take the verb in the sense of "continueth not," explaining that the destruction of Babylon is here intimated. But what follows makes against this interpretation. The LXX. gives, Ἁνὴρ ἀλαζὼν οὐθὲν μὴ τεράνη , which Jerome, combining with it his own version, paraphrases, "Sic vir superbus non decorabitur, nec voluntatem suam perducet ad finem; et juxta Symmachum, οὐκ εὐπορήσει , hoc est, in rerum omnium erit penuria." Who enlargeth his desire as hell; Hebrew, Sheol. Hell is called insatiable (Pro_27:20; Pro_30:16; Isa_5:14). Is as death, which seizes all creatures and spares none. People; peoples.


§ 8. The destruction of the Babylonians is announced by the mouth of the vanquished nations, who utter five woes against their oppressor. The first woe: for their rapacity.


All these. All the nations and peoples who have been subjugated and barbarously treated by the Babylonians (comp. Isa_14:4). A parable. A sententious song (see note on Mic_2:4). A taunting proverb. The Anglican Version combines the two Hebrew words, which stand unconnected, into one notion. So the Vulgate, loquelam aenigmatum. The latter of the two generally means "riddle," "enigma;" the other word (melitzah) is by some translated, "a derisive satirical song," or "an obscure, dark saying;" but, as Keil and Delitzsch have shown, is better understood of a bright, clear, brilliant speech. So the two terms signify "a speech containing enigmas," or a song which has double or ambiguous meanings (comp. Pro_1:6). Septuagint, Πρόβλημα εἰς διήγησις , αὐτοῦ . Woe (Nah_3:1). This is the first of the five "woes," which consist of three verses each, arranged in strophical form. Increaseth that which is not his. He continues to add to his conquests and possessions, which are not his, because they are acquired by injustice and violence. This is the first denunciation of the Chaldeans for their insatiable rapacity. How long? The question comes in interjectionally—How long is this state of things to continue unpunished (comp. Psa_6:3; Psa_90:13)? That ladeth himself with thick clay; Septuagint, βαρύνων τὸν κλοιὸν αὐτοῦ στιβαρῶς , "who loadeth his yoke heavily;" Vulgate, aggravat contra se densum lutum. The renderings of the Anglican and Latin Versions signify that the riches and spoils with which the conquerors load themselves are no more than burdens of clay, which are in themselves worthless, and only harass the bearers. The Greek Version seems to point to the weight of the yoke imposed by the Chaldeans on them; but Jerome explains it differently, "Ad hoc tantum saevit ut devoret et iniquitatis et praedarum onere quasi gravissima torque se deprimat." The difficulty lies in the ἄπαξ λεγόμενον abtit, which forms an enigma, or dark saying, because, taken as two words, it might pass current for "thick clay," or "a mass of dirt," while regarded as one word it means "a mass of pledges," "many pledges." That the latter is the signification primarily intended is the view of many modern commentators, who explain the clause thus: The quantity of treasure and booty amassed by the Chaldeans is regarded as a mass of pledges taken from the conquered nations a burden of debt to be discharged one day with heavy retribution. Pusey, "He does in truth increase against himself a strong pledge, whereby not others are debtors to him, but he is a debtor to Almighty God, who careth for the oppressed (Jer_17:11)."


That shall bite thee. As thou hast cruelly treated others, so shall they, like fierce vipers (Jer_8:17), bite thee. Henderson, Delitzsch, Keil, and others see in the word a double entendre connected with the meaning of "lending on interest," so the "biting" would signify "exacting a debt with usury." Such a term for usury is not unknown to classical antiquity; thus (quoted by Henderson) Aristoph; 'Nub.,' 12—


Υπὸ τὴς δαπάνης καὶ τῆς φάτνης καὶ τῶν χρεῶν

"By the expenditure deep bitten,

And by the manger and the debts"

Lucan, 'Phars.,' 1.181," Hinc usura vorax, avidumque in tempore faenus." The "biters" rising up suddenly are the Persians who destroyed the Babylonian power as quickly and as unexpectedly as it had arisen. Vex; literally, shake violently, like διασείσητε (Luk_3:14), or like the violent arrest of a creditor (Mat_18:28); Septuagint, οἱ ἐπίβουλοί σου , "thy plotters;" Vulgate, lacerantes te. So of the mystic Babylon, her end comes suddenly (Rev_18:10, Rev_18:17).


The law of retaliation is asserted. All the remnant of the people (peoples) shall spoil thee. The remnant of the nations subjugated and plundered by the Chaldeans shall rise up against them. The downfall of Babylon was brought about chiefly by the combined forces of Media, Persia, and Elam (Isa_21:2; Jer_1:9, etc.); and it is certain that Nebuchadnezzar, at one period of his reign, conquered and annexed Elam; and there is every probability that he warred successfully against Media (see Jer_25:9, Jer_25:25; Judith 1:5, 13, etc.); and doubtless many of the neighbouring tribes, which had suffered under these oppressors, joined in the attack. Because of men's blood. Because of the cruelty and bloodshed of which the Babylonians were guilty. For the violence of (done to) the land, of the city (see Hab_2:17). The statement is general, but with special reference to the Chaldeans' treatment of Judaea and Jerusalem, as in Isa_43:14; Isa_45:4; Jer_51:4, Jer_51:11. Jerome takes "the violence of the land," etc; to mean the wickedness of the Jews themselves, which is to be punished. He is led astray by the Septuagint, which gives, διὰ ἀσεβείας γῆς , "through … the iniquity of the land."


§ 9. The second woe: for their avarice, violence, and cunning.


That coveteth an evil covetousness to his house; better, gaineth evil gains for his house. The "house" is the royal family or dynasty, as in Hab_2:10; and the Chaldean is denounced for thinking to secure its stability and permanence by amassing godless gains. That he may set his nest on high. This is a figurative expression, denoting security as well as pride and self-confidence (comp. Num_24:21; Job_39:27, etc.; Jer_49:16; Oba_1:4), and denotes the various means which the Chaldeans employed to establish and secure their power (comp. Isa_14:14). Some see in the words an allusion to the formidable fortifications raised by Nebuchadnezzar for the protection of Babylon, and the wonderful palace erected by him as a royal residence. It is certain that Nebuchadnezzar and other monarchs, after successful expeditions, turned their attention to building and enriching towns, temples, and palaces (see Josephus, 'Cont. Ap.,' 1:19, 7, etc.). From the power of evil; from the hand of evil; i.e. from all calamity.


The very means he took to secure his power shall prove his ruin. Thou hast consulted shame to thy house. By thy measures thou hast really determined upon, devised shame and disgrace for thy family; that is the result of all thy schemes, By cutting off many people (peoples). This is virtually correct. The verb in the present text is in the infinitive, and may depend upon the verb in the first clause. The versions read the past tense, συνεπέρανας , concidisti. So the Chaldee and Syriac. This may be taken as the prophet's explanation of the shameful means employed. Hast sinned against thy soul (Pro_8:36; Pro_20:2). Thou hast endangered thy own life by provoking retribution. The Greek and Latin Versions have, "Thy soul hath sinned."


Even inanimate things shall raise their voice to denounce the Chaldeans' wickedness. The stone shall cry out of the wall. A proverbial expression to denote the horror with which their cruelty and oppression were regarded; it is particularly appropriate here, as these crimes had been perpetrated in connection with the buildings in which they prided them. selves, and which were raised by the enforced labour of miserable captives and adorned with the fruits of fraud and pillage. Compare another application of the expression in Luk_19:40. Jerome quotes Cicero, 'Orat. pro Marcello,' 10, "Parietes, medius fidius, ut mihi videntur, hujus curiae tibi gratias agere gestiunt, quod brevi tempore futura sit ilia auctoritas in his majorum suorum et suis sedibus". Wordsworth sees a literal fulfilment of these words in the appalling circumstance at Belshazzar's feast, when a hand wrote on the palace wall the doom of Babylon (Dan_5:1-31.). And the beam out of the timber shall answer it. "The tie beam out of the timber work shall" take up the refrain, and "answer" the stone from the wall. The Hebrew word (Kaphis) rendered "beam" is an ἄπαξ λεγόμενον . It is explained as above by St. Jerome, being referred to a verb meaning "to bind." Thus Symmachus and Theodotion translate it by σύνδεσμος . Henderson and others think it means "a half brick," and Aquila renders it by μᾶζα , "something baked." But we have no evidence that the Babylonians in their sumptuous edifices interlaced timber and half bricks. The LXX. gives, κάνθαρος ἐκ ξύλου , a beetle, a worm, from the wood. Hence, referring to Christ on the cross, St. Ambrose ('Orat. de Obit. Theod.,' 46) writes, "Adoravit ilium qui pependit in ligno, illum inquam qui sicut scarabaeus clamavit, ut persecutoribus suis peccata condonaret." St. Cyril argues that tie beams were called κάνθαροι from their clinging to and supporting wall or roof. Some reason for this supposition is gained by the fact that the word canterius, or cantherius, is used in Latin in the sense of "rafter."


§ 10. The third woe: for founding their power in blood and devastation.


The Chaldeans are denounced for the use they make of the wealth acquired by violence. That buildeth a town with blood (Mic_3:1-12 :19, where see note). They used the riches gained by the murder of conquered nations in enlarging and beautifying their own city. By iniquity. To get means for these buildings, and to carry on their construction, they used injustice and tyranny of every kind. That mercy was not an attribute of Nebuchadnezzar we learn from Daniel's advice to him (Dan_4:27). The captives and deported inhabitants of conquered countries were used as slaves in these public works (see an illustration of this from Koyunjik, Rawlinson's 'Anc. Men.,' 1:497). What was true of Assyria was no less true of Babylon. Professor Rawlinson (2:528, etc.) tells of the extreme misery and almost entire ruin of subject kingdoms. Not only are lands wasted, cattle and effects carried off, the people punished by the beheading or impalement of hundreds or thousands, but sometimes wholesale deportation of the inhabitants is practised, tons or hundreds of thousands being carried away captive. "The military successes of the Babylonians," he says (3:332), "were accompanied with needless violence, and with outrages not unusual in the East, which the historian must nevertheless regard as at once crimes and follies. The transplantation of conquered races may, perhaps, have been morally defensible, notwithstanding the sufferings which it involved. But the mutilations of prisoners, the weary imprisonments, the massacre of non-combatants, the refinement of cruelty shown in the execution of children before the eyes of their fathers,—these and similar atrocities, which are recorded of the Babylonians, are wholly without excuse, since they did not so much terrify as exasperate the conquered nations, and thus rather endangered than added strength or security to the empire. A savage and inhuman temper is betrayed by these harsh punishments, one that led its possessors to sacrifice interest to vengeance, and the peace of a kingdom to a tiger-like thirst for blood …we cannot be surprised that, when final judgment was denounced against Babylon, it was declared to be sent in a great measure 'because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwelt therein.'"


Is it not of the Lord of hosts? Hath not God ordained that this, about to be mentioned, should be the issue of all this evil splendour? That the people shall labour in the very fire; rather, that the peoples labour for the.fire; i.e. that the Chaldees and such like nations expended all this toil on cities and fortresses only to supply food for fire, which, the prophet sees, will be their end (Isa_40:16). Jeremiah (Jer_51:58) applies these and the following words to the destruction of Babylon. This is indeed to weary themselves for very vanity. Babylon, when it was finally taken, was given over to fire and sword (comp. Jer_50:32; Jer_51:30, etc.).


The prophet now gives the reason of the vanity of these human undertakings. For the earth shall be filled, etc. The words are from Isa_11:9, with some little alterations (comp. Num_14:21). This is cue of the passages which attests "the community of testimony," as it is called, among the prophets. To take a few out of many cases that offer, Isa_2:2-4 compared with Mic_4:1-4; Isa_13:19-22 with Jer_1:1-19 :39, etc.; Isa_52:7 with Nah_1:15; Jer_49:7-22 with Oba_1:1-4; Amo_9:13 with Joe_3:18 (Lodd, 'Doctrine of Scripture,' 1:145). All the earth is to be filled with, and to recognize, the glory of God as manifested in the overthrow of ungodliness; and therefore Babylon, and the world power of which she is a type, must be subdued and perish. This announcement looks forward to the establishment of Messiah's kingdom, which "shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and shall stand forever" (Dan_2:44). We must remember how intimately in the minds of Eastern heathens the prosperity of a nation was connected with its local deities. Nothing in their eyes could show more perfectly the impotence of a god than his failing to protect his worshippers from destruction. The glory of Jehovah and his sovereignty over the earth would be seen and acknowledged in the overthrow of Babylon, the powerful, victorious nation. As the waters cover the sea. As the waters fill the basin of the sea (Gen_1:22; 1Ki_7:23, where the great vessel of ablution is called "the sea").


§ 11. The fourth woe: for base and degrading treatment of subject nations.


Not only do the Chaldeans oppress and pillage the peoples, but they expose them to the vilest derision and contumely. The prophet uses figures taken from the conduct produced by intemperance. That giveth his neighbour drink. The Chaldeans behaved to the conquered nations like one who gives his neighbour intoxicating drink to stupefy his faculties and expose him to shame (comp. Hab_2:5). The literal drunkenness of the Chaldeans is not the point here. That puttest thy bottle to him. If this translation is received, the clause is merely a strengthened repetition of the preceding with a sudden change of person. But it may be rendered, "pouring out, or mixing, thy fury," or, as Jerome, "mittens fel suum," "adding thy poison thereto." This last version seems most suitable, introducing a kind of climax, the "poison" being some drug added to increase the intoxicating power. Thus: he gives his neighbour drink, and this drugged, and in the end makes him drunken also. For the second clause the Septuagint gives, ἀνατροπῇ θολερᾷ , subversione turbida and the versions collected by Jerome are only unanimous in differing from one another That thou mayest look on their nakedness. There seems to be an allusion to the case of Noah (Gen_9:21, etc.); but the figure is meant to show the abject state to which the conquered nations were reduced, when, prostrated by fraud and treachery, they were mocked and spurned and covered with ignominy (comp. Nah_3:5, Nah_3:11). So the mystic Babylon is said to have made the nations drink of her cup (Rev_14:8; Rev_17:2; Rev_18:3).


Just retribution falls on Babylon. Thou art filled with shame for glory. Thou art satiated, indeed, but With shame, not with glory. Thou hast revelled in thy shameless conduct to the defencelses, but this redounds to thy dishonour, and will only add to the disgrace of thy fall The Septuagint joins this clause with part of the following: "Drink thou also fulness of shame for glory." Drink thou also the cup of wrath and retribution. Let thy foreskin be uncovered. Be thou in turn treated with the same ignominy with which thou hast treated others, the figure in Hab_2:15 being here repeated (comp. Lam_4:21). It is otherwise translated, "Be thou," or "show thyself, uncircumcised." This, in a Jew's eyes, would be the very climax of degradation. The Vulgate has consopire, from a slightly different reading. The LXX; Καρδία σαλεύθητι καὶ σείσθητι "Be tossed, O my heart, and shaken." The present text is much more appropriate, though the Syriac and Arabic follow the Greek here. The cup of the Lord's right hand. Retributive vengeance is often thus figured (comp. Psa_60:3; Psa_75:8; Isa_51:17, Isa_51:22; Jer_25:15, etc.). Shall be turned unto thee. God himself shall bring round the cup of suffering and vengeance to thee in thy turn, and thou shalt be made to drink it to the dregs, so that shameful spewing (foul shame) shall be on thy glory. The ἅπαξ λεγόμενον kikalon is regarded as an intensive signifying "the utmost ignominy", or as two words, or a compound word, meaning vomitus ignominiae (Vulgate). It was probably used by the prophet to suggest both ideas.


For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee; LXX; ἀσέβεια τοῦ Λιβάνου : iniquitas Libani (Vulgate). It would be plainer if translated, "the violence against," or "practised on, Lebanon," as the sentence refers to the devastation inflicted by the Chaldeans on the forests of Lebanon (comp. Isa_14:8; Isa_37:24). Jerome confines the expression in the text to the demolition of the temple at Jerusalem in the construction of which much cedar was employed; others take Lebanon as a figure for Palestine generally, or for Jerusalem itself; but it is best understood literally. The same devastation which the Chaldeans made in Lebanon shall "cover," overwhelm, and destroy them. And the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid. The introduction of the relative is not required, and the passage may be better translated, And the destruction of beasts made them (others read "thee") afraid. Septuagint, "And the wretchedness of the beasts shall affright thee." Jerome, in his commentary, renders, "Et vastitas animalium opprimet te." The meaning is that the wholesale destruction of the wild animals of Lebanon, occasioned by the operations of the Chaldeans, shall be visited upon this people. They warred not only against men, but against the lower creatures too; and for this retributive punishment awaited them. Because of men's blood, etc. The reason rendered in Hab_2:8 is here repeated. Of the land, etc; means "toward" or "against" the land.


12. The fifth woe: for their idolatry.


The final woe is introduced by an ironical question. The Chaldeans trusted in their gods, and attributed all their success to the divine protection; the prophet asks—What good is this trust? What profiteth the graven image? (comp. Isa_44:9, Isa_44:10; Jer_2:11). What is the good of all the skill and care that the artist has lavished on the idol? (For "graven" or "molten," see note on Nah_1:14.) And a (even the) teacher of lies. The idol is so termed because it calls itself God and encourages its worshippers in lying delusions, in entire contrast to Jehovah who is Truth. From some variation in reading the LXX. gives, φαντασίαν ψευδῆ , and Jerome, "imaginem falsam" (comp. Jer_10:14). Trusteth therein. The prophet derides the folly which supposes that the idol has powers denied to the man who made it (Isa_29:16). Dumb idols; literally, dumb nothings. So 1Co_12:2, εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα . There is a paronomasia in the Hebrew, elilim illemim.


The prophet now denounces the folly of the maker and worshipper of idols. With this and the following verses compare the taunts in Isa_44:9-20. The wood. From which he carves the image. Awake! Come to my help, as good men pray to the living God (comp. Psa_35:23; Psa_44:1-26 :28; Isa_51:9). Arise, it shall teach! The Hebrew is bettor rendered, Arise! it teach! i.e. shall this teach?—an emphatic question expressing astonishment. Vulgate, Numquid ipse docere poterit? The LXX. paraphrases, καὶ αὐτό ἐστι φαντασία , "and itself is a phantasy." It is laid, over. "It" is again emphatic, as if pointed at with the finger. Hence the Vulgate, Ecce iste coopertus est; and Henderson, "There it is, overlaid," etc. The wooden figure was encased in gold or silver plates (see Isa_40:19; Dan_3:1).


The prophet contrasts the majesty of Jehovah with these dumb and lifeless idols. His holy temple. Not the shrine at Jerusalem, but heaven itself (see Psa_11:4, and note on Mic_1:2). Let all the earth keep silence before him. Like subjects in the presence of their king, awaiting his judgment and the issue to which all these things tend (comp. Hab_2:14; Psa_76:8, etc.; Zep_1:7; Zec_2:13). Septuagint, Εὀλαβείσθω ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ , κ . τ . λ , "Let all the earth fear before him."



The prophet upon his watch tower.

I. THE OUT LOOKING PROPHET. (Hab_2:1.) Having spread out before Jehovah his complaint, Habakkuk, determined to stand upon his watch tower or station himself upon his fortress, and to look forth to see what Jehovah would speak within him, and what reply in consequence he should give to his own complaint. The words indicate the frame of mind to be cherished and the course of conduct to be pursued by him who would hold communion with and obtain communications from God. There must be:

1. Holy resolution. No soul can come to speaking terms with God without personal effort. Certainly God may speak to men who make no efforts to obtain from him either a hearing or an answer, but in general those only find God who seek him with the whole heart (Psa_119:2). Prophets frequently received revelations which they had not sought (Gen_12:7; Exo_3:2; Exo_24:1; Isa_6:1; Eze_1:1; Dan_7:1), but as often the Divine communications were imparted in answer to specific seeking (Gen_15:13; Exo_33:18; Dan_9:2; Act_10:9) In the same way may God discover himself, disclose his truth, and dispense his grace to individuals, as he did to Saul of Tarsus (Act_9:1-6), without their previous exertions to procure such distinguished favours; but in religion, as in other matters, it is the hand of the diligent that maketh rich (2Pe_1:10).

2. Spiritual elevation. He. who would commune with God must, like Habakkuk, "stand upon his watch tower, and station himself upon his fortress," not literally and bodily, but figuratively and spiritually. It is not necessary to suppose that Habakkuk went up to any steep and lofty place in order the better to withdraw himself from the noise and bustle of the world, and the more easily to fix his mind on heavenly things and direct his soul's eye Godward. Abraham certainly was on the summit of Moriah when Jehovah appeared to him; Moses was called up to the top of Sinai to meet with God (Exo_24:1; Exo_34:2); Jehovah revealed himself to Elijah upon the mount of Horeb (1Ki_19:11); Balaam went to "an high place" to look out for a revelation from God (Num_23:3); the disciples were on the crest of Hermon when Christ was transfigured before them (Mat_17:1); and even Christ himself spent whole nights in prayer with God among the hills (Joh_6:15). Local elevation and corporeal isolation may be usefully employed to aid the heart in abstracting itself from mundane things; yet this only is the elevation and isolation that brings the soul in contact with God (Mat_6:6). When David prayed he retired into the inner chamber of his heart (Psa_19:14; Psa_49:3) and lifted up his soul to God (Psa_25:1).

3. Confident expectation. Habakkuk believed that his prayers and complaints would not pass unattended to by God. He never doubted that God would reply to his supplications and interrogations. So he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb_11:6). It was David's habit, after directing his prayer to God, to look up expecting an answer (Psa_5:3), and it ought to be the practice of Christians first to ask in faith (Jas_1:6), and then to confidently hope for an answer.

4. Patient attention. Though Habakkuk had no doubt as to the fact that God would speak to him, he possessed no assurance either as to the time when or as to the manner in which that speaking would take place. Hence he resolved to possess his soul in patience and keep an attentive outlook. So David waited on and watched for God with patient hope and close observation (Psa_62:5; Psa_130:5). So Paul exhorted Christians to "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col_4:2). Many fail to obtain responses from God, because they either are not sufficiently attentive to discern the tokens by which God speaks to his people, or lack the patience to wait till he chooses to break silence.

5. Earnest introspection. The want of this is another frequent cause of failure on the part of those who would but do not hear God speak. Habakkuk understood that if God answered him it would be by his Spirit speaking in him, and that accordingly he required not to watch for "signs" in the firmament, in the earth, or in the sea, but to listen to the secret whisperings that he heard within himself. So David exhorted others to commune with their own hearts upon their bed (as doubtless he himself did), if they would know the mind of God (Psa_4:4); and Asaph, following his example, observed the same godly practice (Psa_77:6). While God has furnished lessons for all in the pages of nature and revelation, it is in the domain of the inner man, enlightened by his Word and taught by his Spirit, that his teaching for the individual is to be sought.

II. THE IN SPEAKING GOD. (Verse 2.) Habakkuk had not long to wait for the oracle he expected; and neither would modern petitioners be long without answers were their waiting more like Habakkuk's. Three things were announced to the prophet.

1. That he should receive a vision. Jehovah would not leave his dark problem unsolved, would afford him such a glimpse into the future of the Chaldean power as would effectually dispel all his doubts and tears, would unveil to him the different destinies of the righteous and the wicked in such a way as to enable him calmly to endure until the end; and exactly so has the Christian obtained in the Bible such light upon the mystery of Providence as helps him to look forward to the future for its full solution. The vision about to be granted to Habakkuk was

(1) definite, i.e. for an appointed time, and so is the vision now granted to the Christian for a time as well known to God (though not to the Christian) as any moment in the past has been;

(2) distant, i.e. to be fulfilled after a longer or shorter interval, and so has the day of the clearing up of the mystery of providence for the Christian been "after a long time;" but still

(3) certain, i.e. it would surely come to pass, and so will all that God has revealed in Scripture concerning the different destinies of the righteous and the wicked come to pass. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not God's Word (Mat_24:35).

2. That he should write the vision. Whether a literal writing upon a tablet (Ewald, Pusey) was intended, as Isaiah (Isa_8:1; Isa_30:8) and Jeremiah (Jer_30:2) were directed to write down the communications received by them from God; or whether it was merely a figurative writing (Hengstenberg, Keil) that was meant, as in the ease of Daniel (Dan_12:4); the intention manifestly was that Habakkuk should publish the vision he was about to receive—publish it in terms so clear and unambiguous that persons who only gave it a casual glance would have no difficulty in understanding it. This has been done, not with reference to Habakkuk's vision merely, but as regards the whole Bible, which is not only "all plain to him that uuderstandeth" (Pro_8:9), but is able to "make wise the simple" (Psa_19:7), and guide in safety "the wayfaring man, though a fool" (Isa_35:8). The object contemplated by the writing (literal or figurative) of Habakkuk's vision was

(1) the comfort of God's people in Judah during the period of waiting that should intervene between then and the day of their enemy's overthrow; and

(2) the interpretation of the vision when the incidents occurred to which it referred. The same purposes are subserved by the Word of God, and especially by those prophetic parts which foretell the destruction of the enemies, and the salvation of the people, of God.

3. That he should wait for the vision. It might be delayed, but it should come. Hence he should possess his soul in patience. So should Christians wait patiently for the coming of the Lord for their final redemption and for the overthrow of all the Church's foes (Jas_5:8). The contents of the vision are narrated in the verses which follow.


1. The dignity of man, as a being who can converse with God; the condescension of God in that he stoops to talk with man.

2. The duty and the profit of reflection and meditation; the sin and loss of those who never commune with their own hearts.

3. The simplicity of the Bible a testimony to its divinity; had it been man's book it would not have been so easy to understand.

4. The certainty that Scripture prediction will be fulfilled; the expectation of this should comfort the saints; the realization of this will vindicate God.

Hab_2:4, Hab_2:5

The unjust man and the just: a contrast.


1. The unjust man.

(1) Proud or "puffed up" in soul. The heart the seat and source of all sin; pride its origin and essence (Psa_10:4; Psa_52:7; Pro_16:5; Mal_4:1). Arrogant haughtiness and self-sufficiency characteristic of the carnal heart (Rom_1:30; Eph_4:17). These qualities had marked the Assyrian (Isa_10:12), and were to distinguish the Chaldean (Hab_2:5) conqueror. They discover themselves in all who oppose or decline from the spirit of Christ (1Co_5:2; Php_2:3; 3Jn_1:9). They will eventually culminate in antichrist (2Th_2:4).

(2) Wicked or ungodly in life. His soul, being thus puffed up with pride, is not "upright" or "straight" within him; is not free from turning and trickery; does not in its thoughts, feelings, words, and actions adhere to the straight path of integrity, but loves "crooked ways" and devious roads, and thus turns aside unto iniquity (Psa_125:5). Again true of the Chaldean, whose iniquities—drunkenness, boasting, restless ambition, insatiable lust of conquest, relentless oppression—are specifically enumerated (Hab_2:5), it holds good also of the natural heart and carnal mind (Jer_13:10; 2Ti_3:2).

(3) Rejected or "condemned" by God. This implied in the fact that he is not a just or "justified" man.

2. The just man.

(1) Believing in soul. As pride or trust in self is the animating principle of the wicked, so is faith or trust in God that of the good. Faith the root of all moral and spiritual excellence in the soul. As the proud soul stands aloof from God, the humble heart cleaves to God, as "that which is straight, being applied to what is straight, touches and is touched by it everywhere."

(2) Upright in life. As pride leads to disobedience, faith leads to obedience. Hence Paul speaks of "the obedience of faith" (Rom_1:5), i.e. such obedience as is inspired by faith. The soul that trusts God, walks in his ways, avoids sin, and endeavours to order his conversation aright (Psa_1:1-6 :23; 1Pe_2:5). Faith and holiness are in the gospel scheme inseparably connected (Joh_15:8; Rom_2:13; Eph_2:10; Tit_3:8).

(3) Accepted by God. Paul in Romans (Rom_1:17), and the writer to the Hebrews (Heb_10:38), by quoting this statement from Habakkuk, teach that the "just" and the "justified" are one—that the just in the Scripture sense of that expression are those legally and spiritually righteous before God.


1. That of the unjust—death. Though not stated, this may be inferred.

(1) The soul of which the inward essence is pride and self-sufficiency is destitute of spiritual life, is dead. "Swollen with pride, it shuts out faith, and with it the presence of God" (Pusey); and "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb_11:6).

(2) The man who lives in sin is dead while he liveth (1Ti_5:6)—dead in trespasses and sins (Eph_2:1), and so long as he remains a stranger to the principle of faith which the breath of God's Spirit alone can awaken in the unrenewed, he must continue "dead," i.e. incapable of actions spiritually good.

(3) The sinner not accepted before God is of necessity condemned by God; and to be under condemnation is to be "legally dead."

2. That of the just—life. Not necessarily life physical and temporal, because the "justified" die no less than their neighbours (Heb_9:27); but

(1) life legal and judicial—"he that believeth shall never come into condemnation" (Joh_3:18; Joh_5:24; Rom_8:1);

(2) life moral and spiritual, which Scripture connects with faith in God and in his Son Christ Jesus as a stream with its fountain, as a tree with its root, as an effect with its cause (Act_15:9; Act_26:18; 2Th_1:11; Gal_2:20); and

(3) life indestructible and eternal, this being always a quality ascribed to the life which the justified man receives through his faith (Joh_3:36 Joh_5:24; Joh_11:26; 1Jn_2:25; 1Jn_5:11; 1Ti_1:16; 1Ti_6:12; Tit_1:2; Tit_3:7). All other life but that which Christ bestows is temporal and perishing.


A parable of woes: 1. Woe to the rapacious!


1. The Chaldean nation, in its kings and people, who were animated by a lust of conquest, which impelled them upon wars of aggression.

2. The enemies of the Church of God and of Jesus Christ, whether national or individual, in whom the same spirit dwells as resided in the Babylonian power. God's promises and threatenings in the Bible have almost always a wider sweep and a larger reference than simply to those to whom they were originally addressed.

II. THEIR SIN SPECIFIED. Spoliation, robbery, theft, plunder. A wickedness:

1. Unjust; as all theft is. In heaping up the spoils of plundered nations, the Chaldean was increasing what was not his; and the same is done by those who store up money or goods gotten by fraud or oppression. What men acquire by violence or guile is not theirs. How much of the wealth of modern nations and of private persons is of this character may not be told; to assert that none is may be charity, but is not truth. The practices complained of by James (Jas_5:4-6) have not bees unknown since his day.

2. Insatiable; as the lust of possession is prone to be. The plundered nations are depicted as asking—How long is this devastating power to go on despoiling peoples weaker than himself? Is his career of rapine never to be arrested? Will his thirst for what belongs to others never be quenched? So "he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase" (Ecc_5:10). The passion for heaping up ill-gotten gains grows by what it feeds on. Those who determine to enrich themselves at the expense of others seldom know when to stop. Almost never do they cry, "Enough!" till retribution, overtaking them, strips them of all.

3. Vain; as all sin will ultimately prove to be. The foreign property taken by the Chaldean from other nations, the prophet characterizes as "pledges" exacted from them by an unmerciful creditor, perhaps intending thereby to suggest that the Chaldean would be "compelled to disgorge them in due time" (Keil). The idea, true of all man's earthly possessions (Job_1:21)—

"Whate'er we fondly call our own

Belongs to heaven's great Lord;

The blessings lent us for a day

Are soon to be restored,"

—is much more applicable to wealth acquired by fraud or oppression (Jer_17:11). The day will come when, if not by the robbed themselves, by God the rightful Owner of the wealth (Hag_2:8) and the strong Champion of the oppressed (Psa_10:18), it will be demanded back with interest (Job_20:15).


1. Certain. "Shall not all these take up a parable against him?" The overthrow of the Chaldean is so surely an event of the future that the very nations and peoples he has plundered, or the believing remnant amongst them, will yet raise a derisive song over his miserable and richly merited fall; and just as surely will the rapacious plunderer of others be destroyed, and his destruction be a source of satisfaction to beholders (Pro_1:18, Pro_1:19).

2. Heavy. The wealth he has stolen from others will be to him as a "burden of thick clay" that will first crush him to the earth, making the heart within him wretched and the spirit sordid and grovelling, and finally sink him into a hopeless and cheerless grave (Ecc_2:22, Ecc_2:23; Ecc_6:2; Psa_49:14).

3. Sudden. Retribution should fall upon the Chaldean in a moment—his biters should rise up suddenly, and his destroyers wake up as from a sleep to harass him (verse 7); and in such fashion will the end be of "everyone that is greedy of gain and taketh away the life of the owners thereof" (Pro_1:19); he may "spend his days in wealth," but "in a moment he shall go down to the grave" (Job_21:13); he may "heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay," but he shall "lie down and not be gathered;" he shall "open his eyes, and behold! he is not" (Job_27:16, Job_27:19).

4. Retributive. The Chaldean should be spoiled by the nations he had spoiled. So will violent and rapacious men reap what themselves have sowed. How often is it seen that money goes as it comes! Acquired by speculation or gambling, it is lost by the same means. He who robs others by violence or fraud not unfrequently is himself robbed by another stronger or craftier than he. "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc. (Gal_6:7).


1. "Provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Rom_12:17).

2. "Do violence to no man" (Luk_3:14).

3. "If thou do that which is evil, be afraid" (Rom_13:4).


A parable of woes: 2. Woe to the covetous!


1. Personal comfort. Suggested by the term "nest," which for the Chaldean meant Babylon with its palaces, and for the individual signifies his mansion or dwelling place (Job_29:18). Josephus ('Ant.,' 10:11, 1) states that Nebuchadnezzar built for himself a palace "to describe the vast height and immense riches of which would be too much fur him (Josephus) to attempt;" and Nebuchadnezzar himself tells us in his inscription that he constructed "a great temple, a house of admiration for men, a lofty pile, a palace of his royalty for the land of Babylon," "a large edifice for the residence of his royalty," and that within it were collected as an adornment "trophies, abundance, royal treasures" ('Records of the Past,' 5:130, etc.). Men who set their hearts on riches mostly do so under the impression that these will add in their comfort and increase their happiness—to them comfort and happiness being synonymous with large, beautiful, and well plenished houses (Psa_49:11).

2. Social distinction. Pointed at by the word "high," in which notions of elevation and visibility are involved. For one rich man that covets wealth to augment his bodily comfort or mental gratification, then seek it for the lustre in others' eyes it is supposed to give. The upper classes in society are the wealthy; the under or lower classes are the poor. None notice the wise man who is poor (Ecc_9:16); the rich fool stands upon a pedestal and receives the homage of admiring crowds (Pro_14:20). The same delusive standard is employed in estimating the greatness of nations. Wealth is commonly accepted by the world as the true criterion of rank. Rich nations take precedence of poor ones. In God's sight money is the smallest distinction that either country or person can wear.

3. Permanent safety. Stated by the clause, "that he may be delivered from the power [or, 'the hand'] of evil" The Babylonian sovereigns as individuals and as rulers held the delusion that the best defence against personal or national calamity was accumulated treasure (Pro_10:15; Pro_18:11). Nebuchadnezzar in particular used his "evil gain" for the fortification of his metropolis, building around it "the great walls" which his father Nabopolassar had begun but not completed, furnishing these with great gates of ikki and pine woods and coverings of copper, to keep off enemies from the front, and rearing up a tall tower like a mountain, so rendering it, as he supposed, "invincible" ('Records of the Past,' 5:126, etc.). In a like spirit men imagine that "money is a defense" (Ecc_7:12), and that he who has a large balance at his banker's need fear no evil. But "riches profit not in the day of wrath" (Pro_11:4); and just as certainly as Nebuchadnezzar's "eagle's nest" was not beyond the reach of the Persian falconer, so neither will the wicked man's silver and gold be able to deliver him when his end is come (Jer_51:13; Eze_7:19; Zep_1:18).


1. Against God. This evident from the nature of the offence, which God's Law condemns (Exo_20:17), as well as from the evils to which it leads—oppression, pride, self-sufficiency, and self-destruction.

2. Against others. In carrying out its wicked schemes covetousness usually involves others in ruin. It impelled the Chaldean to cut off many peoples. It drives those whom it inspires to deeds of violence, robbery, oppression, and murder (Pro_1:19; 1Ti_6:10).

3. Against themselves. The covetous burden their own souls with guilt; and so, while professing to seek their own happiness and safety, are in reality accelerating their own misery and destruction.


1. Disappointment. Whereas the covetous man expects to set his house on high, he usually ends by involving it in shame (Pro_15:27); instead of promoting its stability, as the result of all his scheming he commonly accomplishes its overthrow (Pro_11:28).

2. Vengeance. Likening the covetous nation or man to a house builder, the prophet says that "the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it," as it were uniting