The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
Verse 1. - § 1. The inscription of the book. The burden (see note on Nahum 1:1). The prophet (Habakkuk 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 here 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 Amos 1:1).
O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!
Verses 2-4. - 2. The prophet complains to God of the iniquity of his own nation, and its consequence. Verse 2. - 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 (ver. 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; Jeremiah 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 (Leviticus 26, passim).
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.
Verse 3. - Why dost thou show me - Why dost thou let me see daily with my own eyes - iniquity abounding, the very evil which Balaam says (Numbers 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 cf. 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. Jeremiah 6:7; Amos 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 the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
Verse 4. - 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 (Genesis 45:26), is no longer of any force or efficacy, is become a dead letter. Διασκέδασται "is dispersed" (Septuagint); 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 (Judges 20:43; Psalm 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.
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.
Verses 5-11. - § 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. Verse 5. - 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, Ιδετε, οἱ καταφρονηταί, "Behold, ye despisers," which is justifiable. St. Paul quotes the Greek Version, Acts 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 ver. 6. It is God who sends the avengers. In your days. The prophet had asked (ver. 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. Lamentations 4:12).
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.
Verse 6. - 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 (1 Kings 11:14, 23; Amos 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. Isaiah 14:6; Jeremiah 6:23; Jeremiah 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. Revelation 20:9).
They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
Verse 7. - They. The Hebrew is singular throughout. The disposition of the people, as of one man, is depicted. Terrible; exciting terror, as Song of Solomon 6:4, 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. Daniel 4:130). 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 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.
Verse 8. - Their horses, etc. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:13) compares their horses to eagles (comp. Job 39:19, etc.). The punishment predicted in Deuteronomy 28:49, etc., is to come upon the Jews. We often read of the cavalry and chariots of the Chaldeans (Jeremiah 4:29; Jeremiah 6:23; Ezekiel 23:23, 24). Evening wolves. Wolves that prowl for food in the evening, and are then fiercest (Jeremiah 5:6; Zephaniah 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 vers. 8-11 should be rendered in the present tense. From far. From Babylonia (Isaiah 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 Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; Lamentations 4:19).
They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
Verse 9. - They shall come all for violence. All, every one of the invaders, come for violence - to repay that violence of which Habakkuk complained (ver. 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. Genesis 41:6, 23; Job 27:21; Hosea 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 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.
Verse 10. - 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 (2 Chronicles 36:6; 2 Kings 24:1, 3; Jeremiah 22:19) and Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12, 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 (comp. 2 Samuel 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32; 2 Kings 25:1). In the Assyrian monuments one often sees representations of these mounds, or of inclined planes constructed to facilitate the approach of the battering ram (see Bonomi, 'Nineveh and its Palaces,' pp. 181, 188, etc.; Layard, 'Nineveh,' etc., 2:369).
Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
Verse 11. - Then shall his mind change; Τότε μεταβαλεῖ τὸ πνεῦμα (Septuagint); 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. Isaiah 14:13; Isaiah 47:7, etc.; Daniel 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."
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.
Verses 12-17. - § 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. Verse 12. - 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. Jeremiah 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 (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 37; Psalm 18:2, 31:3; Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 10:5). Septuagint, Απλασέ 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, 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?
Verse 13. - Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil (comp. Habakkuk 1:3). God cannot look with complacency on evil (Psalm 5:5, 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 (Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16). More righteous. The Israelites, wicked as they were, were more righteous than the Chaldeans (comp. Ezekiel 16:51, etc.). Delitzsch and Keil think that the persons intended are the godly portion of Israel, who will suffer with the guilty.
And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?
Verse 14. - 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. Proverbs 6:7; Proverbs 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. Isaiah 63:19, Revised Version). The "creeping things" are worms, or small fish (Psalm 104:25).
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.
Verse 15. - They take up all men with the angle; he bringeth up all together with the hook (Amos 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, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.
Verse 16. - 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. ver. 11; Isaiah 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, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
Verse 17. - 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.