Habakkuk 2
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.
1. stand upon my watch] i.e. I will take my stand upon my place of watching (Isaiah 21:8; 2 Chronicles 7:6), parallel to “and set me on a tower.” The language appears to be figurative; it is scarcely likely, though possible, that the prophet had some elevated place to which he retired to await a prophetic vision. But as a watchman looks out from his watch-tower into the distance (2 Samuel 18:24; 2 Kings 9:17), the prophet will look out for the answer or message from Heaven (Isaiah 21:8; Isaiah 21:11).

will watch to see] or, will look forth to see, as R.V.

shall answer when I am reproved] what answer I shall bring to my plea. His plea or argument is the whole scope of the preceding chapter, or at least of ch. Habakkuk 1:12-17. Comp. Job 13:6 “hear now my plea” (R.V. reasoning). Syr. reads: what answer He will give, and so many scholars. The reading gives a closer parallel to the preceding clause, but does not seem necessary; comp. Jdg 5:29 “she answered (same term as here) her own words.” Of course the answer is an inner one which the prophet shall be enabled to make to himself and his plea, hence it is called a vision (Habakkuk 2:2).

1–4. Like a watchman the Prophet looks out for an answer from Heaven to his plea

The prophet’s plea or argument is finished. The plea is that expressed in Habakkuk 1:12-17. And like a watchman looking forth from his watch-tower he will look out to see what answer he shall receive to it from Heaven (Habakkuk 2:1). He is commanded to write the answer when it is given on tablets, that all may read it easily (Habakkuk 2:2-3). It comes in the shape of a moral distinction; “His soul is puffed up in him; but the righteous shall live by his faithfulness.” The distinction carries in it its final verification in events, though this may not come at once (Habakkuk 2:4).

And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
2. upon tables] upon the tablets. The art. refers either to the customary use of such tablets for public notices (Isaiah 8:1), or to the tablets to be taken in this case for the purpose.

he may run that readeth] The words explain the command to make it plain, and mean that the reader may run on in his reading without being hindered by any obscurity or unwontedness in the writing. Cf. Isaiah 8:1, R.V. margin.

For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
3. Habakkuk 2:3 further explains the reason both for writing the vision and for writing it plainly. The vision bears upon the future and must be preserved; also, it is of common interest to all, learned or unlearned, and the speedy understanding of it will quiet minds that are perplexed.

an appointed time] Perhaps: the appointed time. The vision bears upon the future determined time. Cf. Daniel 8:19; Daniel 8:26; Daniel 10:14; Daniel 11:27; Daniel 11:35.

at the end it shall speak] Rather: and it hasteth (lit. panteth) toward the end. The vision, as the word of God (Isaiah 55:10-11), has an energy and life of its own, and it strains toward the end, though the “end” here is not its own fulfilment, but the determined future time. 2 Peter 2:3.

and not lie] and it shall not lie, i.e. prove or be found false, deceive.

it will not tarry] will not fail, or, be late, beyond the appointed time. 2 Samuel 20:5; Jdg 5:28.

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
4. Habakkuk 2:4 gives the contents of the vision. The present text reads:

Behold his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him;

But the righteous shall live by his faithfulness.

The term “puffed up” is perhaps properly said of ground, and means to be uneven, to have swelling heights, and when applied to the mind to swell, be puffed up or arrogant. The opposite idea is “upright,” properly even, without ruggedness or heights (Isaiah 40:3-4). Cf. Proverbs 30:32; Psalm 131:2.

Instead of “is puffed up” the parallelism of the verse would naturally require a noun as subject, opposed to “the righteous” of next clause: Behold the …, his soul is not upright in him, but the righteous &c. No acceptable suggestion has been made. The Sept. took the clause as a conditional, if he draw back; reading also my soul for his soul.

The term “faithfulness” is used in the sense of physical steadiness or firmness, as Exodus 17:12 of the hands of Moses (cf. Isaiah 33:6); then in the sense of trueness, e.g. as opposed to falsehood or lies in speech, Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 7:28; and as equivalent to trustworthiness, honesty in conduct, 2 Kings 12:15-16. The word is often coupled with “righteousness,” as 1 Samuel 26:23; Isaiah 59:4; Jeremiah 5:1. In Isaiah 11:5 it is said of the Messiah: “righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” So far as the expression is used of men it appears to mean integrity of character and conduct, and differs little from righteousness. Such a character has in it the principle of permanence, while the Chaldean, whose soul is not upright in him, shall perish. Comp. Proverbs 10:25, “when the whirlwind passeth the wicked is no more, but the righteous is an everlasting foundation” (Proverbs 10:2). Sept. rendered “faith,” and read in this way the passage became the text for St Paul’s doctrine of faith. The Heb. language has no word for “faith” as an active principle, though the term “believe” is derived from the same root as the present word. The situation here is similar to that described in Isaiah 8:17, “Bind up the testimony … and I will wait for Jehovah, who hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him”; cf. here Habakkuk 2:3 “though it tarry wait for it.”

Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:
5. Yea also … transgresseth by wine] A.V. is hardly a rendering of the text. R.V. renders: yea, moreover, wine is a treacherous dealer, a haughty man, and that keepeth not at home; who enlargeth his desire as hell. Such phraseology has little meaning. Any reference to Chaldean debaucheries, openly expressed by A.V. and apparently insinuated by R.V., is farfetched in the extreme and has no probability. The text cannot be right; the word “wine” does not appear either in Sept. or Syr., and the word rendered “keepeth at home” is unknown.

The term rendered by R.V. “treacherous (barbarous) dealer” is that applied to the Chaldean, ch. Habakkuk 1:13, and it would be more natural to take the “ruthless dealer” as the subject of the statement here, and to suppose that what is said of him is that he is insatiable, in agreement with the second half of the verse. The Syr. contents itself with expressing this general sense: an arrogant and greedy man is not satiated (insatiable). There is some corruption in the word “wine,” which should express the predicate; yea, moreover … is the treacherous dealer.

He is a proud man, neither keepeth at home] The term “proud” occurs Proverbs 21:24, “The proud and haughty man, scorner is his name.” The verb “keepeth at home” is found nowhere else; a noun in the sense of pasture, homestead, is not uncommon, and the verb if it existed might (after Arab.) mean to find a home, or resting-place—possibly even to be quiet or rest (Job 20:20). The whole would then read: yea, moreover … is the treacherous dealer, a man that is proud and resteth not; who enlargeth. For “resteth not” (yinweh) Wellh. suggests “is not satisfied” (yirweh). The latter word properly means to drink to satiety, as the thirsty does water, and as the sword does blood (Jeremiah 46:10). When Ibn Aḥmar sings of his camel: “She says, when I have raised the saddle upon her, Will Ibn Aḥmar be supplied with drink and never satisfy his thirst (yarwa) from me?” the beast refers to her sweat. If the word “wine” were retained a slight change in the Heb. text might produce a comparison: Moreover, like wine is the treacherous dealer, a man that is proud and restless (insatiable); who enlargeth:—the comparison “like wine” indicating the conduct and demeanour that wine produces. But all efforts to educe sense must fail with the present text.

enlargeth his desire as hell] who openeth wide his maw like Sheòl. Sheòl, the place of the dead, is insatiable. Isaiah 5:14; Proverbs 27:20, “Sheòl and Abaddon are never satisfied,” cf. Proverbs 30:16. “Death” like Sheòl is personified.

heapeth unto him all people] all peoples. He swalloweth down all nations like Sheòl.

Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!
6–8. First woe: the Chaldean lust of conquest

6. Shall not all these] i.e. all the nations whom he has drawn into his net, and heaped together as his own possession.

take up a parable] The word may mean originally a saying containing a comparison or similitude; in a wider sense, a figurative speech or song. For the phrase “take up a parable” cf. Numbers 23:7; Numbers 23:18; Job 27:1.

taunting proverb against him] Or, in regard to him. Taunting proverb is lit. an enigma, riddles, Proverbs 1:6; Psalm 49:4; Daniel 8:23. Both words suggest a song or poem with concealed taunting allusions.

increaseth that which is not his] The reference is to his insatiable lust of conquest and robbery of the nations.

that ladeth himself with thick clay] and that ladeth himself with pledges. That which he compels the nations to give him or takes from them by force is compared to pledges which he heaps up upon himself. The day will come when their restitution shall be exacted of him. Job 20:10; Job 20:15; Job 20:20. The rendering “thick clay” is obtained by taking the word “pledges” as a compound; cf. Exodus 19:9, thick cloud.

6–20. Five woes pronounced against the Chaldean From the mouth of the nations whom he has desolated

Habakkuk 2:5 does not belong to the vision Habakkuk 2:4, but forms the transition to the taunting proverb taken up against the Chaldean by the nations. This proverb is in the form of a prophecy in which woes are pronounced on the lust of conquest, rapacity, selfish pride and idolatry of the people, and their ruin is predicted, for their vices carry in them their own recompense. The woes are five in number, beginning with Habakkuk 2:6; Habakkuk 2:9; Habakkuk 2:12; Habakkuk 2:15; Habakkuk 2:18. Though the nations take up the woes, as the passage proceeds the prophet himself appears to speak.

Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?
7. that shall bite thee] Such is the usual sense of the word, which is used of the serpent, Genesis 49:17; Numbers 21:8-9; cf. Micah 3:5. The term is employed here in a figurative sense of the attack of enemies. In one form the verb means to exact usury from one, Deuteronomy 23:20, and some would render here thy creditors. This double sense is supposed by some to be one of the taunting allusions (Habakkuk 2:6).

shall vex thee] Or, violently shake thee. Ecclesiastes 12:3; Esther 5:9; cf. Daniel 5:19; Daniel 6:27; Deuteronomy 28:25; Isaiah 28:19.

Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.
8. remnant of the people] the peoples. The most natural meaning is, all the other peoples in contrast with the Chaldean: the nations shall make common cause against him and spoil their spoiler. Others consider that reference is made to the desolating wars of the Chaldeans which have reduced the inhabitants of the world to a “remnant.” This is less natural. Altogether unacceptable is the view that the remnant or rest of the nations are those nations whom the Chaldean did not spoil, for in Habakkuk 2:5 he is said to have gathered to him all nations.

violence of the land] violence done to the earth, Jeremiah 50:23; Jeremiah 51:7; Jeremiah 51:25. The term “city” is collective, cities. Bloodshed of men, desolation of the earth, which also is sentient and moral (Isaiah 16:7; Isaiah 45:18), and burning of cities—these are the things for which nemesis awaits the Chaldean. The like shall be done unto him—he shall be spoiled, his proud cities burned in the fire (Habakkuk 2:13), and his glory covered with shame (Habakkuk 2:16). This refrain recurs Habakkuk 2:17.

Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!
9–11. Second woe: the Chaldean’s rapacity and self-aggrandisement

9. coveteth an evil covetousness] gaineth evil gains for his house. His “house” is his family or dynasty, or, if the Chaldean represent the nation, his people.

set his nest on high] A figure from the eagle or other birds that build in inaccessible places. He sought evil gains for the purpose of fortifying his abode and making it unassailable. Numbers 24:21; Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4.

power of evil] lit. hand of evil, i.e. calamity from assailants. The “evil” is not present but eventual and possible.

Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul.
10. consulted shame to thy house] The next words explain that what he consulted or purposed was to cut off many nations; but this purpose shall turn out to be to the confusion of his house; Jeremiah 7:19. As the Assyrian was sent against an ungodly nation, so the Chaldean was appointed for chastisement, but neither of them understood the limits of his commission: “he thinketh not so, but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few,” Isaiah 10:7.

By cutting off many people] Or, to cut off. The text is not quite assured, the Versions render: thou hast cut off. Cf. 2 Kings 10:32.

And hast sinned] Or, whilst thou sinnest against thine own life. In his purpose to cut off many peoples and the execution of it he sins to the endangering or rather to the forfeiture of his own life. Comp. Isaiah 10:12-19, and particularly Isaiah 14:20. The construction and form of sentence are both unusual, cf. Proverbs 8:36; Proverbs 20:2, and Psalm 7:10; Psalm 55:20 (A.V. Proverbs 7:9, 55:19).

For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.
11. stone shall cry out of the wall] For the stone out of the wall shall cry out. The Chaldean gains evil gains to build his nest on high; the materials he uses, the stones and wood, shall cry out against the wrong and oppression perpetrated in procuring them. This sense is preferable to that assumed by Hitzig, that in his constructions the Chaldean kept back the hire of the labourers (Jeremiah 22:13).

beam … answer it] i.e. reecho its cry of injustice.

Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!
12–14. Third woe: his oppression of the peoples to gratify his architectural pride

12. buildeth a town with blood] The meaning appears to be that the means of building the city are acquired through bloodshed, conquest and slaughter of the nations, and deportation of them to be employed in forced labour. Comp. Micah 3:10, “They build up Zion with blood,” i.e. by the goods of those slain by judicial murder (1 Kings 21).

by iniquity] Cf. Jeremiah 22:13, where the iniquity consists in the forced labour; here it may be more general. The terms “town” and “city” refer to any city or to many. Isaiah 14:21.

Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?
13. people … in the very fire] peoples shall labour for the fire. Those great cities of the heathen world on which the peoples labour are destined to become the prey of the fire.

people … for very vanity] the nations shall weary themselves for vanity, or, for nought, in vain. The great buildings on whose construction the nations exhaust themselves are doomed to annihilation. This is the decree of the Lord of Hosts. The words with some difference occur again, Jeremiah 51:58, with special reference to Babylon. The passage is scarcely a quotation from Jer., neither do the words, Behold, is it not, &c., imply that it is a quotation from some other source. Cf. 2 Chronicles 25:26, where the peculiar phrase occurs again.

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
14. As the waters cover] Or, like the waters which cover the (bed of the) sea. The knowledge shall be not only universal but deep. Isaiah 11:9. The verse explains the preceding. The Lord of Hosts, God Omnipotent, whose purposes overrule all, shall bring in His kingdom, and in the judgments that precede its coming the great fabrics reared by heathenism for its idolatries and its oppressions shall become fuel for the fire (Isaiah 9:5). This is the line of thought most natural. Another might be that when the reign of peace in Jehovah’s kingdom shall come in men themselves shall burn to the ground their strongholds of war and their edifices of pride, just as they shall beat their swords to ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4).

Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!
15–17. Fourth woe: his contemptuous humiliation of prostrate potentates and nations

15. The helplessness of the nations before the power or the craft of the Chaldean and his contemptuous treatment of them when subject to him is represented under the figure of giving one to drink to intoxication and then making brutal merriment over the exposure of his nakedness (Genesis 9:21).

That puttest thy bottle to him] As the text stands the verse reads: Woe to him that giveth his neighbour drink, mixing therewith (or, adding thereto) thy wrath, and makest him drunken also. The idea would be, not that the wrath was the drink, but only mixed with it or added to it (1 Samuel 2:36; Isaiah 14:1). This is not natural. A.V. “bottle” (Genesis 21:14) is in Heb. a word similar to “wrath,” and might be read if the vowel points were altered, but its use is quite improbable. The ancient “bottle,” being a wine-skin, would not suggest the figure. Wellh. makes the ingenious conjecture that the term “mixing,” or adding to, has arisen by accidental repetition of a letter, and that its true sense is “from the cup” (Zechariah 12:2)—Woe to him that giveth his neighbour drink from the cup of his (lit. thy) wrath, and makest him drunken also.

Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD'S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.
16. filled with shame for glory] with shame and not with glory, the construction as Hosea 6:6, “mercy and not sacrifices,” cf. Psalm 52:3. The term “art filled” or sated must have the meaning: “thou hast feasted thyself on shame,” i.e. on the shame of his victims, or more generally, on that which is shameful, rather than on what is decorous and honourable. Such a sense seems nowhere else expressed by the verb to be sated. The text may be uncertain.

cup … turned unto thee] Lamentations 4:21; Jeremiah 25:15; Jeremiah 51:7; Isaiah 51:17.

shameful spuing] Or, as R.V., foul shame. The word, like “thick clay” (Habakkuk 2:6), has been taken as two words: spuing of shame, with the sense of A.V. It is no doubt an intensive form of the word shame.

For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.
17. violence of Lebanon] i.e. done to Lebanon. Lebanon is not a figure for the holy land, but used literally. Both Assyrians and Babylonians transported wood from Lebanon for their temples and other edifices. It is possible that their cutting down of wood may have been wanton, and perhaps the use of the cedars by the Chaldean in any form may have been considered desecration. Comp. Isaiah 14:8.

shall cover thee] Obadiah 1:10; Jeremiah 3:25. In Obadiah 1:10 shame covers the Edomites because of the violence; here the violence itself covers. The violence carries shame, its recompense, in itself.

spoil … made them afraid] and the destruction of the beasts shall terrify thee (or, break thee). The ancient versions read thee for them, no doubt rightly. The Chaldeans may have made Lebanon their hunting-ground, and possibly they carried the chase to excess, though “spoil” or destruction does not mean extermination but violent treatment. The earth, the woods and the beasts no less than man have rights; there is nothing that exists which is not moral; wanton excess on anything recoils on the head of the perpetrator. The ravage and terror carried into the world of creatures shall come back in terror and destruction on the Chaldean. The refrain is as in Habakkuk 2:11.

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?
18–20. Fifth woe: the irrational idolatries of the Chaldean. Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 21:918. What profiteth the graven image?] The idea that the idols do not profit, i.e. save or deliver, is often expressed; 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 44:10; Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 2:11; Jeremiah 16:19. Comp. Isaiah 46; Jeremiah 10.

and a teacher of lies] Here the “teacher” is the idol itself, not its priest or prophet as in Isaiah 9:15, because the priest or prophet only expressed the indications or intimations given by the god. These intimations are called “lies,” Zechariah 10:2. The term teacher occurs in the name Oak Moreh (Genesis 12:6), which was probably a “talking oak,” in which a deity resided and from which (whether through its rustling or otherwise, cf. 2 Samuel 5:24) oracles were drawn. Deuteronomy 11:30; cf. Jdg 9:37, the oak of the Meonenim (augurs).

Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.
19. Woe unto him … Awake] 1 Kings 18:27, “he (Baal) sleepeth and must be awaked.” The term is also used of Jehovah when He visibly interposes after apparent inactivity, Psalm 78:65; Psalm 35:23; Psalm 44:23; Psalm 59:5. As this verse begins with Woe many propose to place it before Habakkuk 2:18.

it shall teach] Or, shall it teach! as an exclamation of contempt or wonder at the infatuation of those who consult it. A full stop is to be placed at Arise! Teach is equivalent to, give an answer or oracle when consulted or appealed to. Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 46:7.

laid over with gold] This is probably the meaning, though the term is obscure. Perhaps: set in gold.

there is no breath] Psalm 135:17; Jeremiah 10:14; cf. Jeremiah 51:17.

But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.
20. The verse expresses the contrast between the idols and Jehovah. Isaiah 46.

holy temple] i.e. the heavenly temple as in Psalm 11:4. And “he who sitteth in heaven” is living and all powerful, watchful of the affairs of men (Psalm 11:4), into which He may throw Himself at any moment (Psalm 2:12).

Let all the earth keep silence] The expression occurs again Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13. In the former passage reference is to the manifestation of Jehovah in “the day of the Lord,” the final judgment upon the earth, and in the other a similar idea appears to be expressed. The sense of the present passage is probably the same: the silence is that of expectancy and dread before the Revelation of the Lord.

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