The subject of this prophecy is the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem for the sins of the people, and the consolation of the faithful under national calamities.
The wickedness of the land. The fearful vengeance to be executed. (1-11) These judgments to be inflicted by a nation more wicked than themselves. (12-17)
Verses 1-11 The servants of the Lord are deeply afflicted by seeing ungodliness and violence prevail; especially among those who profess the truth. No man scrupled doing wrong to his neighbour. We should long to remove to the world where holiness and love reign for ever, and no violence shall be before us. God has good reasons for his long-suffering towards bad men, and the rebukes of good men. The day will come when the cry of sin will be heard against those that do wrong, and the cry of prayer for those that suffer wrong. They were to notice what was going forward among the heathen by the Chaldeans, and to consider themselves a nation to be scourged by them. But most men presume on continued prosperity, or that calamities will not come in their days. They are a bitter and hasty nation, fierce, cruel, and bearing down all before them. They shall overcome all that oppose them. But it is a great offence, and the common offence of proud people, to take glory to themselves. The closing words give a glimpse of comfort.
Verses 12-17 However matters may be, yet God is the Lord our God, our Holy One. We are an offending people, he is an offended God, yet we will not entertain hard thoughts of him, or of his service. It is great comfort that, whatever mischief men design, the Lord designs good, and we are sure that his counsel shall stand. Though wickedness may prosper a while, yet God is holy, and does not approve the wickedness. As he cannot do iniquity himself, so he is of purer eyes than to behold it with any approval. By this principle we must abide, though the dispensations of his providence may for a time, in some cases, seem to us not to agree with it. The prophet complains that God's patience was abused; and because sentence against these evil works and workers was not executed speedily, their hearts were the more fully set in them to do evil. Some they take up as with the angle, one by one; others they catch in shoals, as in their net, and gather them in their drag, their enclosing net. They admire their own cleverness and contrivance: there is great proneness in us to take the glory of outward prosperity to ourselves. This is idolizing ourselves, sacrificing to the drag-net because it is our own. God will soon end successful and splendid robberies. Death and judgment shall make men cease to prey on others, and they shall be preyed on themselves. Let us remember, whatever advantages we possess, we must give all the glory to God.
Habakkuk 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.
2, 3. violence . . . Why dost thou show me iniquity?--Similar language is used of the Chaldeans ( Habakkuk 1:9 Habakkuk 1:13 ), 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 ( Proverbs 1:31 ). Jehoiakim's reign was marked by injustice, treachery, and bloodshed ( Jeremiah 22:3 Jeremiah 22:13-17 ). Therefore the Chaldeans should be sent to deal with him and his nobles according to their dealings with others ( Habakkuk 1:6 Habakkuk 1:10 Habakkuk 1:11 Habakkuk 1:17 ). Compare Jeremiah's expostulation with Jehovah, Jeremiah 12:1 , 20:8 ; and Job 19:7 Job 19:8 .
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."
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.
5. Behold . . . marvellously . . . a work--(Compare Isaiah 29:14 ). Quoted by Paul ( Acts 13:41 ).
among the heathen--In Acts 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 Acts 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.
6. I raise up--not referring to God's having brought the Chaldeans from their original seats to Babylonia 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 ( 2 Chronicles 36:6 ). The Hebrew is future, "I will raise up."
bitter--that is, cruel ( Jeremiah 50:42 ; compare Judges 18:25 , Margin; 1 Samuel 17:8 ).
hasty--not passionate, but "impetuous."
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.
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 ( Jeremiah 5:6 , Zephaniah 3:3 ; compare Genesis 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 Jeremiah 50:11 , and Malachi 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.
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 ( Isaiah 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.
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 2 Samuel 20:15 , 2 Kings 19:32 ) [GROTIUS].
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 ( Proverbs 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 An undesigned coincidence between the two sacred books written independently.
imputing this his power unto his god--( Daniel 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 Habakkuk 1:16 , and Daniel 3:1-30 ). So MAURER, "He shall offend as one to whom his power is his god" ( Job 12:6 ;
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 ( Isaiah 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 ( Isaiah 10:5-7 ). But not that they may deify their own power ( Habakkuk 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 ( Deuteronomy 32:4 ). However the world is shaken, or man's faith wavers, God remains unshaken as the Rock of Ages ( Isaiah 26:4 , Margin).
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," ( Isaiah 21:2 , 24:16 ). Instead of speaking evil against God, he goes to God Himself for the remedy for his perplexity ( Psalms 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 Ezekiel 16:51 Ezekiel 16:52 ).
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 ( Habakkuk 1:15-17 ).
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 Habakkuk 1:11 ).
16. sacrifice unto their net--that is, their arms, power, and military skill, wherewith they gained their victories; instead of to God. Compare Habakkuk 1:11 , MAURER'S interpretation. They idolize themselves for their own cleverness and might ( Deuteronomy 8:17 , Isaiah 10:13 , Isaiah 37:24 Isaiah 37:25 ).
by them--by their net and dragnet.
their portion--image from a banquet: the prey which they have gotten.
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.