Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
THE BOOK OF HABAKKUK Commentary by A. R. Faussett
Habakkuk, from a Hebrew root meaning to "embrace," denoting a "favorite" (namely, of God) and a "struggler" (for his country's good). Some ancient authors represent him as belonging to the tribe of Levi; others [Pseudo Epiphanius], to that of Simeon. The inscription to Bel and the dragon in the Septuagint asserts the former; and Hab 3:19 perhaps favors this. Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 7.29] states that in his time Habakkuk's tomb was shown at Celia in Palestine.
The time seems to have been about 610 B.C. For the Chaldeans attacked Jerusalem in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim, 605 B.C. (2Ki 24:1; 2Ch 36:6; Jer 46:2; 36:9). And Habakkuk (Hab 1:5, 6, &c.) speaks of the Chaldeans as about to invade Judah, but not as having actually done so. In the second chapter he proceeds to comfort his people by foretelling the humiliation of their conquerors, and that the vision will soon have its fulfilment. In the third chapter the prophet in a sublime ode celebrates the deliverances wrought by Jehovah for His people in times past, as the ground of assurance, notwithstanding all their existing calamities, that He will deliver them again. Hab 3:16 shows that the invader is still coming, and not yet arrived; so that the whole refers to the invasion in Jehoiakim's times, not those under Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. The Apocryphal appendix to Daniel states that he lived to see the Babylonian exile (588 B.C.), which accords with his prophesying early in Jehoiakim's reign, about 610 B.C.
The position of the book immediately after Nahum is appropriate; as Nahum treated of the judgments of the Lord on Assyria, for its violence against Israel, so Habakkuk, those inflicted by, and on, the Chaldeans for the same reason.
The style is poetical and sublime. The parallelisms are generally regular. Borrowed ideas occur (compare Hab 3:19, with Ps 18:33; Hab 2:6, with Isa 14:4; Hab 2:14, with Isa 11:9).
The ancient catalogues imply that his book is part of the canon of Scripture. In the New Testament, Ro 1:17 quotes Hab 2:4 (though not naming him); compare also Ga 3:11; Heb 10:38. Ac 13:40, 41 quotes Hab 1:5. One or two Hebrew words peculiar to Habakkuk occur (Hab 1:9; 2:6, 16).
Hab 1:1-17. Habakkuk's Expostulation with Jehovah on Account of the Prevalence of Injustice: Jehovah Summons Attention to His Purpose of Sending the Chaldeans as the Avengers. The Prophet Complains, that These Are Worse than Those on Whom Vengeance Was to Be Taken.
1. burden—the prophetic sentence.
O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!
2, 3. violence … Why dost thou show me iniquity?—Similar language is used of the Chaldeans (Hab 1:9, 13), as here is used of the Jews: implying, that as the Jews sinned by violence and injustice, so they should be punished by violence and injustice (Pr 1:31). Jehoiakim's reign was marked by injustice, treachery, and bloodshed (Jer 22:3, 13-17). Therefore the Chaldeans should be sent to deal with him and his nobles according to their dealings with others (Hab 1:6, 10, 11, 17). Compare Jeremiah's expostulation with Jehovah, Jer 12:1; 20:8; and Job 19:7, 8.
Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
3. cause me to behold grievance—Maurer denies that the Hebrew verb is ever active; he translates, "(Wherefore) dost Thou behold (without doing aught to check) grievance?" The context favors English Version.
there are that raise up strife and contention—so Calvin. But Maurer, not so well, translates, "There is strife, and contention raises itself."
Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
4. Therefore—because Thou dost suffer such crimes to go unpunished.
law is slacked—is chilled. It has no authority and secures no respect.
wrong judgment proceedeth—Decisions are given contrary to right.
Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
5. Behold … marvellously … a work—(Compare Isa 29:14). Quoted by Paul (Ac 13:41).
among the heathen—In Ac 13:41, "ye despisers," from the Septuagint. So the Syriac and Arabic versions; perhaps from a different Hebrew reading. In the English Version reading of Habakkuk, God, in reply to the prophet's expostulation, addresses the Jews as about to be punished, "Behold ye among the heathen (with whom ye deserve to be classed, and by whom ye shall be punished, as despisers; the sense implied, which Paul expresses): learn from them what ye refused to learn from Me!" For "wonder marvellously," Paul, in Ac 13:41, has, "wonder and perish," which gives the sense, not the literal wording, of the Hebrew, "Wonder, wonder," that is, be overwhelmed in wonder. The despisers are to be given up to their own stupefaction, and so perish. The Israelite unbelievers would not credit the prophecy as to the fearfulness of the destruction to be wrought by the Chaldeans, nor afterwards the deliverance promised from that nation. So analogously, in Paul's day, the Jews would not credit the judgment coming on them by the Romans, nor the salvation proclaimed through Jesus. Thus the same Scripture applied to both.
ye will not believe, though it be told you—that is, ye will not believe now that I foretell it.
For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.
6. I raise up—not referring to God's having brought the Chaldeans from their original seats to Babylonia (see on Isa 23:13), for they had already been upwards of twenty years (since Nabopolassar's era) in political power there; but to His being about now to raise them up as the instruments of God's "work" of judgment on the Jews (2Ch 36:6). The Hebrew is future, "I will raise up."
bitter—that is, cruel (Jer 50:42; compare Jud 18:25, Margin; 2Sa 17:8).
hasty—not passionate, but "impetuous."
They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
7. their judgment and … dignity … proceed of themselves—that is, they recognize no judge save themselves, and they get for themselves and keep their own "dignity" without needing others' help. It will be vain for the Jews to complain of their tyrannical judgments; for whatever the Chaldeans decree they will do according to their own will, they will not brook anyone attempting to interfere.
Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.
8. swifter than the leopards—Oppian [Cynegeticks, 3.76], says of the leopard, "It runs most swiftly straight on: you would fancy it was flying through the air."
more fierce—rather, "more keen"; literally, "sharp."
evening wolves—wolves famished with fasting all day and so most keen in attacking the fold under covert of the approaching night (Jer 5:6; Zep 3:3; compare Ge 49:27). Hence "twilight" is termed in Arabic and Persian "the wolf's tail"; and in French, entre chien et loup.
spread themselves—proudly; as in Jer 50:11, and Mal 4:2, it implies strength and vigor. So also the Arabic cognate word [Maurer].
their horsemen … come from far—and yet are not wearied by the long journey.
They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
9. all for violence—The sole object of all is not to establish just rights, but to get all they can by violence.
their faces shall sup up as the east wind—that is, they shall, as it were, swallow up all before them; so the horse in Job 39:24 is said to "swallow the ground with fierceness and rage." Maurer takes it from an Arabic root, "the desire of their faces," that is, the eager desire expressed by their faces. Henderson, with Symmachus and Syriac, translates, "the aspect."
as the east wind—the simoon, which spreads devastation wherever it passes (Isa 27:8). Gesenius translates, "(is) forwards." The rendering proposed, eastward, as if it referred to the Chaldeans' return home eastward from Judea, laden with spoils, is improbable. Their "gathering the sand" accords with the simoon being meant, as it carries with it whirlwinds of sand collected in the desert.
And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.
10. scoff at … kings—as unable to resist them.
they shall heap dust, and take it—"they shall heap" earth mounds outside, and so "take every stronghold" (compare 2Sa 20:15; 2Ki 19:32) [Grotius].
Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
11. Then—when elated by his successes.
shall his mind change—He shall lose whatever of reason or moderation ever was in him, with pride.
he shall pass over—all bounds and restraints: his pride preparing the sure way for his destruction (Pr 16:18). The language is very similar to that describing Nebuchadnezzar's "change" from man's heart (understanding) to that of a beast, because of pride (see on Da 4:16; Da 4:30, 31; Da 4:33, 34). An undesigned coincidence between the two sacred books written independently.
imputing this his power unto his god—(Da 5:4). Sacrilegious arrogance, in ascribing to his idol Bel the glory that belongs to God [Calvin]. Grotius explains, "(saying that) his power is his own as one who is a god to himself" (compare Hab 1:16, and Da 3:1-30). So Maurer, "He shall offend as one to whom his power is his god" (Job 12:6; see on Mic 2:1).
Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.
12. In opposition to the impious deifying of the Chaldeans power as their god (Maurer, or, as the English Version, their attributing of their successes to their idols), the prophet, in an impassioned address to Jehovah, vindicates His being "from everlasting," as contrasted with the Chaldean so-called "god."
my God, mine Holy One—Habakkuk speaks in the name of his people. God was "the Holy One of Israel," against whom the Chaldean was setting up himself (Isa 37:23).
we shall not die—Thou, as being our God, wilt not permit the Chaldeans utterly to destroy us. This reading is one of the eighteen called by the Hebrews "the appointment of the scribes"; the Rabbis think that Ezra and his colleagues corrected the old reading, "Thou shalt not die."
thou hast ordained them for judgment—that is, to execute Thy judgments.
for correction—to chastise transgressors (Isa 10:5-7). But not that they may deify their own power (Hab 1:11, for their power is from Thee, and but for a time); nor that they may destroy utterly Thy people. The Hebrew for "mighty God" is Rock (De 32:4). However the world is shaken, or man's faith wavers, God remains unshaken as the Rock of Ages (Isa 26:4, Margin).
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
13. purer … than to behold evil—without being displeased at it.
canst not look on iniquity—unjust injuries done to Thy people. The prophet checks himself from being carried too far in his expostulatory complaint, by putting before himself honorable sentiments of God.
them that deal treacherously—the Chaldeans, once allies of the Jews, but now their violent oppressors. Compare "treacherous dealers," (Isa 21:2; 24:16). Instead of speaking evil against God, he goes to God Himself for the remedy for his perplexity (Ps 73:11-17).
devoureth the man that is more righteous—The Chaldean oppresses the Jew, who with all his faults, is better than his oppressor (compare Eze 16:51, 52).
And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?
14. And—that is, And so, by suffering oppressors to go unpunished, "Thou makest men as the fishes … that have no ruler"; that is, no defender. All may fish in the sea with impunity; so the Chaldeans with impunity afflict Thy people, as these have no longer the God of the theocracy, their King, to defend them. Thou reducest men to such a state of anarchy, by wrong going unpunished, as if there were no God. He compares the world to the sea; men to fishes; Nebuchadnezzar to a fisherman (Hab 1:15-17).
They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.
15. they take up all of them—all kinds of fishes, that is, men, as captives, and all other prey that comes in their way.
with the angle—that is, the hook. Some they take up as with the hook, one by one; others in shoals, as in a "net" and "drag" or enclosing net.
therefore—because of their successes.
they rejoice—They glory in their crimes because attended with success (compare Hab 1:11).
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.
16. sacrifice unto their net—that is, their arms, power, and military skill, wherewith they gained their victories; instead of to God. Compare Hab 1:11, Maurer's interpretation. They idolize themselves for their own cleverness and might (De 8:17; Isa 10:13; 37:24, 25).
by them—by their net and dragnet.
their portion—image from a banquet: the prey which they have gotten.
Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
17. Shall they … empty their net?—Shall they be allowed without interruption to enjoy the fruits of their violence?
therefore—seeing that they attribute all their successes to themselves, and not to Thee. The answer to the prophet's question, he by inspiration gives himself in the second chapter.