Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The burden - On the word "burden" see the note at Nah 1:1.
Which Habakkuk the prophet did see - The prophet's name signifies "strong embrace." The word in its intensive form is used both of God's enfolding the soul within His tender supporting love , and of man clinging and holding fast to divine wisdom Pro 4:8. It fits in with the subject of his prophecy, faith, cleaving fast to God amid the perplexities of things seen. Dion.: "He who is spiritually Habakkuk, cleaving fast to God with the arms of love, or enfolding Him after the manner of one holily wrestling, until he is blessed, enlightened, and heard by Him, is the seer here." "Let him who would in such wise fervidly embrace God and plead with Him as a friend, praying earnestly for the deliverance and consolation of himself and others, but who sees not as yet, that his prayer is heard, make the same holy plaint, and appeal to the clemency of the Creator." (Jer. Abarbanel has the like: "He strengthens himself in pleading his cause with God as to the prosperity of Nebuchadnezzar as if he were joined with God for the cause of his people" Preface to Ezekiel). "He is called 'embrace' either because of his love to the Lord; or because he engages in a contest and strife and (so to speak) wrestling with God." For no one with words so bold ventured to challenge God to a discussion of His justice and to say to Him, "Why, in human affairs and the government of this world is there so great injustice?"
The prophet - The title, "the prophet," is added only to the names of Habakkuk, Haggai, Zechariah. Habakkuk may have added it to his name instead because he prominently expostulates with God, like the Psalmists, and does not speak in the name of God to the people. The title asserts that he exercised the pastoral office of the prophets, although not directly in this prophecy.
Did see - Cyril: "God multiplied visons, as is written Hos 12:10, and Himself spoke to the prophets, disclosing to them beforehand what should be, and all but exhibiting them to sight, as if already present. But that they determined not to speak from their own, but rather transmit to us the words from God, he persuades us at the outset, naming himself a prophet, and showing himself full of the grace belonging thereto."
O Lord, how long shall I cry - Literally, "how long have I cried so intensely to Thee?" Because it is always the cry of the creature to the One who alone can hear or help - its God. Of this cry the Prophet expresses that it had already lasted long. In that long past he had cried out to God but no change had come. There is an undefined past, and this still continues.
How long - as Asaph cries, "how long hast Thou been," and, it is implied, wilt Thou be "wroth against the prayer of Thy people?" as we should say," how long shall Thy wrath continue?" The words which the prophet uses relate to domestic strife and wrong between man and man; violence, iniquity, strife, contention Hab 1:3, nor are any of them used only of the oppression of a foreign enemy. Also, Habakkuk complains of injustice too strong for the law, and the perversion of justice Hab 1:4. And upon this, the sentence is pronounced. The enemy is to be sent for judgment and correction Hab 1:12. They are then the sins of Judah which the prophet rehearses before God, in fellow-suffering with the oppressed. God answers that they shall be removed, but by the punishment of the sinners.
Punishment does not come without sin, nor does sin endure without punishment. It is one object of the Old Testament to exhibit the connection between sin and punishment. Other prophets, as commissioned by God, first denounced the sins and then foretold the punishment of the impenitent. Habakkuk appeals to God's justice, as requiring its infliction. On this ground too this opening of the prophecy cannot be a complaint against the Chaldees, because their wrong would be no ground of the punishment which the prophet denounced, but the punishment itself, requiting wrong to man through human wrong.
Cyril: "The prophet considers the person of the oppressed, enduring the intolerable insolence and contumely of those accustomed to do wrong, and very skillfully doth he attest the unutterable lovingkindness of God, for he exhibits Him as very forbearing, though accustomed to hate wickedness, but that He doth not immediately bring judgment upon the offenders, he showed clearly, saying that so great is His silence and long-suffering, that there needeth a strong cry, in that some practice intolerable covetousness against others, and use an unbridled insolence against the weak, for his very complaints of God's endurance of evil attest the immeasurable loving kindness of God."
Cyril: "You may judge hence of the hatred of evil among the saints. For they speak of the woes of others as their own. So saith the most wise Paul Co2 11:29, who is weak and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? and bade us Rom 12:15 weep with those who weep, showing that sympathy and mutual love are especially becoming to the saints."
The prophet, through sympathy or fellow-suffering with the sufferers, is as one of them. He cries for help, as himself needing it, and being in the misery, in behalf of which he prays. He says, "How long shall I cry?" standing, as it were, in the place of all, and gathering all their cries into one, and presenting them before God. It is the cry, in one, of all which is wronged to the God of Justice, of all suffering to the God of love. "When shall this scene of sin, and confusion, and wrong be at an end, and the harmony of God's creation be restored? How long shall evil not exist only, but prevail?" It is the cry of the souls under the altar Rev 6:10, "How long, O Lord, Holy and True, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" It is the voice of the oppressed against the oppressor; of the Church against the world; weary of hearing the Lord's Name blasphemed, of seeing wrong set up on high, of holiness trampled underfoot. It is in its highest sense His Voice, who, to sanctify our longings for deliverance, said in the days of His Flesh Psa 22:2, "I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not."
Even cry out - aloud (it is the cry of anguish) Dion.: "We cry the louder, the more we cry from the heart, even without words; for not the moving of the lips, but the love of the heart sounds in the ears of God."
Even cry out unto Thee. - Whether as an exclamation or a continuance of the question, How long? The prophet gathered in one the prolonged cry of past and future. He had cried out; he should cry on, "Violence." He speaks as if the one word, jerked out, as it were, wrung forth from his inmost soul, was, "Violence," as if he said this one word to the God of justice and love.
Why dost Thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold - , or rather, "Why beholdest Thou grievance?" God seemed to reverse what He had said by Balaam Num 23:21, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, and hath not seen grievousness in Israel"; and in the Psalms Psa 10:14, "Thou hast seen, for thou (emphatic) beholdest grievousness and wrong, to put it in Thy hand," i. e., Thou layest it up in Thy hand, to cast it back on the head of the evildoer. Now He seemed to behold it and leave it unpunished, which yet Habakkuk says to God below, He could not do Hab 1:13; "Thou canst not look upon iniquity." What then did this mean? What was the solution?
All forms and shapes of sin are multiplied; oppressive "violence" , such as "covered the earth" before the flood, and brought it down; which Nineveh had to put away Jon 3:8, and it was spared; "iniquity," i. e., what is unequal and contrary to truth, falsehood.
Grievance - literally, burdensome wearisome "toil"; "spoiling," or open robbery; "strife and contention," both through perversion of the law and, without it, through endless jarrings of man with man. Sin recoils on the sinner. So what he beholds is not "iniquity" only, but (in the same word) "vanity"; "grievance"; which is a burden both to him who suffers, and yet more to him who inflicts it. For nothing is so burdensome as sin, nothing so empty as wickedness. And while to him who suffers, the suffering is temporal, to him who inflicts it, it is eternal. And yet the prophet and whose prays against ungodliness, "must commiserate him who doth wrong yet more, since they hurt what is most precious, their own soul, and that eternally" . All then is full of evil. Wherever the prophet looks, some fresh violence is before him; it confronts him on every side; "strife hath arisen" , come up, exists where it was not before; "contention lifteth itself" on high, bowing down all beside.
Therefore - i. e., Because God seemed not to awake to avenge His own cause, people promised themselves that they might sin on with impunity. Sin produces sin, and wrong produces wrong; it spreads like an infectious disease, propagating itself, and each, to whom it reaches, adds to its poison. At last, it reached those also, who should be in God's stead to restrain it. The divine law itself is silenced, by the power of the wicked, by the sin of the judge, the hopelessness of all. When all around is evil, even those not yet lost are tempted to think; "Why should I be other than they? What evil befalls them? Why stand alone?" Even a Psalmist Psa 73:15, Psa 73:12-13 speaks as if tempted to "speak even as they. These are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches; verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency;" and Solomon Ecc 8:11, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
The law is slacked - literally "is chilled" (as we say, "is paralyzed"), through lack of the fire of love. This is what our Lord says Mat 24:12, Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. The divine law, the source of all right, being chilled in people's hearts, "judgment," i. e., the sentence of human justice, as conformed to divine justice, "doth never go forth." Human sense of right is powerless, when there is not the love of God's law. It seems always ready to act, but always falls short, like an arrow from an unstrung bow. The man seems always about to do right; he judges, sees, aright - all but does it - yet, at last, he always fails. "It goes not forth. The children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth" Isa 37:3.
For the wicked doth compass about the righteous, laying snares for him, as the Jews for our Lord; evil is too strong for a weak will to do right, and overbears it. Pilate sought in many ways, how he might deliver Jesus, yet he finally did deliver Christ into their hands.
Therefore wrong judgment proceedeth - literally, "judgment proceedeth wrested." He had said, "it never goes forth;" never, that is, in its true character; for, when it does "go forth," it is distorted. Dion.: "For gifts or favor or fear or hate the guiltless are condemned trod the guilty acquitted, as saith the Psalmist Psa 82:2, 'How long will ye judge unjustly and accept the persons of the ungodly?'" Theoph.: "'Judgment goes forth perverted' in the seat of man's judgment (the soul), when, bribed by the pleasures of sense, it leans to the side of things seen, and the ungodly one, the rebel angel, besets and overpowers him who has the sense of right; for it is right that things seen should give way to things unseen Co2 4:18; 'for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.'" Why then all this? And how long? Why does God bring it before him and He who "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, behold grievance," which His Holy Eyes could not endure? Neither the unseen presence of God nor the mission of the prophet checks. If he rebukes, no one hearkened; if he intercedes for sinners, or against sin, God made as though He would not hear. God answers that, though to man's impatience the time seems long, judgment shall come, and that, suddenly and speedily. While the righteous is enquiring, "how long?" and the wicked is saying Mat 24:48, "My Lord delayeth His coming," He is come, and seen in the midst of them.
Behold ye among the heathen - The whole tone of the words suddenly changes. The Jews flattered themselves that, being the people of God, He would not fulfill His threats upon them. They had become like the pagan in wickedness; God bids them look out among them for the instrument of His displeasure. It was an aggravation of their punishment, that God, who had once chosen them, would now choose these whom He had not chosen, to chasten them. So Moses had foretold; Deu 32:21, "They have moved Me to jealousy by that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities; and I will move them to jealousy with not-a-people, I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." There were no tokens of the storm which should sweep them away, yet on the horizon. No forerunners yet. And so He bids them gaze on among the nations, to see whence it should come. They might have expected it from Egypt. It should come whence they did not expect, with a fierceness and terribleness which they imagined not.
Regard - look narrowly, weigh well what it portends.
And wonder marvelously - literally, "be amazed, amazed." The word is doubled to express how amazement should follow upon amazement; when the first was passing away, new source of amazement should come; for .
I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. - So incredible it will be, and so against their wills! He does not say, "ye would not believe if it were told you;" much less "if it were told you of others;" in which case the chief thought would be left unexpressed. No condition is expressed. It is simply foretold, what was verified by the whole history of their resistance to the Chaldees until the capture of the city; "Ye will not believe, when it shall be told you." So it ever is. Man never believes that God is in earnest until His judgments come. So it was before the flood, and with Sodom, and with Lot's sons-in-law; so it was with Ahab and Jezebel; so with this destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans, and what is shadowed forth, by the Romans. So Jeremiah complained Jer 5:12, "They have belied the Lord, and said, it is not He; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine," and Jer 20:7-8, "I am in derision daily; everyone mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily;" and Isaiah Isa 53:1, "Who hath believed our report?" and John the Immerser speaks as though it were desperate Mat 3:7; "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" and our Lord tells them Mat 23:38; Luk 13:35, "Your house is left unto you desolate."
And yet they believed not, but delivered Him up to be put to death, lest that should be, which did come, because they put Him to death Joh 11:48. "If we let Him thus alone, all people will believe on Him; and the Romans shall come, and take away both our place and nation." Therefore, Paul applies these words to the Jews in his day, because the destruction of the first temple by Nebuchadnezzar was an image of the destruction of the second temple (which by divine appointment, contrary to man's intention, took place on the same day ), and the Chaldaeans were images of the Romans, that second Babylon, pagan Rome; and both foreshowed the worse destruction by a fiercer enemy - the enemy of souls - the spiritual wasting and desolation which came upon the Jew first, and which shall come on all who disobey the gospel. So it shall be to the end. Even now, the Jews believe not, whose work their own dispersion is; His, who by them was crucified, but who has "all power in heaven and in earth" Mat 28:18. The Day of Judgment will come like a thief in the night to those who believe not or obey not our Lord's words.
For lo - So God announces a future, in which His Hand shall be greatly visible, whether more or less distant. In His sight it is present.
I raise up - God uses the free will and evil passions of people or devils to His own ends; and so He is said to "raise up" those whom He allows to be stirred up against His people, since the events which His Providence permits, favor their designs, and it rests with Him to withhold them. They lift themselves up for some end of covetousness or pride. But there is a higher order of things, in which God orders their actions to fulfill His righteousness by their iniquities.
The Chaldaeans, that bitter - מר. In Jdg 18:25; Sa2 17:8, the less concise נפשׁ מר.
And hasty nation - נמהר as Isa 32:4. Jerome: "To its might and warlike boldness almost all the Greeks who have written histories of the barbarians, witness."
Which shall march through the breadth of the land - rather, "the earth," literally "to the breadths of the earth," reaching to its whole length and breadth, all its dimensions as in the description of Gog and Magog Rev 20:8-9, "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea; and they went up on the breadth of the earth; unhindered, not pent up, but spreading abroad, where they will, over the whole earth." All before it, is one wide even plain which it overspreads and covers, like a flood, and yet is not spent nor exhausted.
To possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs - As God's people had done, so should it be done to them. Spoiling and violence within Hab 1:2-4 attract oppression from without. The overcharged atmosphere casts down the lightning upon them. They had expelled the weak from their dwelling Mic 2:9; others shall possess theirs. Yet this scourge too shall pass by, since, although the Chaldaean did God's Will, He willed it not, but His own (See Isa 10:6-7). The words, "not theirs," literally, "not to him" stand with a mysterious fullness of meaning. The dwelling places not being his by right, shall not remain his, although given to him, while God wills.
They are terrible - איום 'âyôm occurs here only and Sol 6:4, Sol 6:10, compared with the "bannered host," but the root is common in אימה 'ēymâh.
And dreadful - He describes them, first in themselves, then in act. They are terrible, and strike fear through their very being, their known character, before they put it forth in act.
Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. - Judgment had gone forth in God's people wrested Hab 1:4; now shall it go forth against them at the mere will of their master, who shall own no other rule or Lord or source of his power. His own will shall be his only law for himself and others. His elevation is too is, in his own thought, from himself. He is self-sufficing; he holds from no other, neither from God nor man. His "dignity" is self-sustained; His "judgment" is irresponsible, as if there were none Ecc 5:8 higher than he. He has, like all great world-powers, a real dignity and majesty. He infuses awe. The dignity is real but faulty, as being held independently of God. This is a character of antichrist Dan 11:36; Th2 2:4, a lawless insolence, a lifting up of himself.
Their horses are swifter - literally, lighter, as we say "light of foot"
Than leopards - The wild beast intended is the panther, the lightest, swiftest, fiercest, most bloodthirsty of beasts of prey "It runs most swiftly and rushes brave and straight. You would say, when you saw it, that it is borne through the air." Cyril: "It bounds exceedingly and is exceedingly light to spring down on whatever it pursues."
More fierce - o
Than the evening wolves - Compare Jer 5:6, i. e., than they are when fiercest, going forth to prey when urged to rabidness by hunger the whole day through. Such had their own judges been Zep 3:3, and by such should they be punished. The horse partakes of the fierceness of his rider in trampling down the foe .
Their horsemen shall spread themselves - literally, widespread are their horsemen
And their horsemen from far shall come - Neither distance of march shall weary them, nor diffusion weaken them. So should Moses' prophecy be again fulfilled (Deu 28:49-50, מרחוק occurs in both.) "The Lord shall raise against thee a nation from far, from the ends of the earth, as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor show favor to the young."
They shall fly as the eagle that hasteth - literally, hasting
To eat - Jerome: "not to fight, for none shall withstand; but with a course like the eagle's, to whom all fowl are subdued, hasting but to eat." Behold, Jeremiah says of Nebuchadnezzar Jer 48:40, he shall fly as an eagle and spread his wings over Moab; and, he repeats the words Jer 49:22, over Bozrah. Our pursuers, Jeremiah says Lam 4:19, are swifter than the eagles of the heavens. Ezekiel likens him to Eze 17:3 "a great eagle with great wings full of feathers;" in Daniel's vision he is Dan 7:4 "a lion with eagle's wings."
They shall come all for violence - "Violence" had been the sin of Judah Hab 1:3-4, and now violence shall be her punishment. It had been ever before the prophet; all were full of it. Now should violence be the very end, one by one, of all the savage horde poured out upon them; they all, each one of them come for violence.
Their faces shall sup up as the east wind - קדומה occurs else only in Eze 11:1, and Eze 11:16 times in Ezek. 40-48 of the ideal city and temple as "Eastwards." But except in the far-fetched explanation of Abarb (mentioned also by Tanchum) that they ravaged, not to settle but to return home with their booty, "Eastwards" would have no meaning. Yet "forwards" is just as insulated a rendering as that adopted by John and D. Kimchi, A. E. Rashi, Oh. Sip., Sal. B. Mel. Arab Tr. (following Jonathan) "the East-wind; קדומה standing as a metaphor instead of a simile the הbeing regarded as paragogic, as in לילה. So also Symmachus ἄνεμος καύσων anemos kausōn. Jerome: "ventus urens.") "As at the breath of the burning wind all green things dry up, so at sight of these all shall be wasted." They shall sweep over everything impetuously, like the east wind, scorching, blackening, blasting, swallowing up all, as they pass over, as the East wind, especially in the Holy Land, sucks up all moisture and freshness.
And they shall gather the captivity - i. e., the captives
As the sand - countless, as the particles which the East wind raises, sweeping over the sand-wastes, where it buries whole caravans in one death.
And they - literally, "he," the word stands emphatically, he, alone against all the kings of the earth
Shall scoff at the kings - and all their might taking them away or setting them up at his pleasure and caprice, subduing them as though in sport
And princes - literally, grave and majestic
Shall be a scorn unto them - i. e. him. Compare Job 41:29. So Nebuchadnezzar bound Jehoiakim Ch2 36:6; Dan 1:2 "in fetters to carry him to Babylon;" then, on his submission made him for three years a tributary king Kg2 24:1, then on his rebellion sent bands of Chaldees and other tributaries against him Kg2 24:2; and then, or when Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin, Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled, that he should "be buried with the burial of an ass, dragged and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem Jer 22:19, his dead body cast out in the day to the heat and in the night to the frost" Jer 36:30. On the one hand, the expression "slept with his fathers" does not necessarily imply that Jehoiakim died a peaceful death, since it is used of Ahab Kg1 22:40 and Amaziah Kg2 14:20, Kg2 14:22 (in the other, Jeremiah's prophecy was equally fulfilled, if the insult to his corpse took place when Nebuchadnezzar took away Jehoiachin three months after his father's death. See Daniel. Josephus attributes both the death and disgrace to Nebuchadnezzar: Ant. x. 6. 3), then Nebuchadnezzar took away Jehoiachin; then Zedekiah. He had also many kings captive with him in Babylon. For on his decease Evil-Merodach brought Jehoiachin out of his prison after 27 years of imprisonment, "and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon" Kg2 25:27-28. Daniel says also to Nebuchadnezzar Dan 2:37-38; Dan 4:22, "Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power and strength and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven hath He given into thine hand and hath made thee ruler over all."
They (he) shall deride every strong hold - as, aforetime, when God helped her, Jerusalem laughed the Assyrian to scorn Isa 38:22.
For they (he) shall heap dust, and take it - as Nebuchadnezzar did Tyre, whose very name (Rock) betokened its strength. Jerome: "He shall come to Tyre, and, casting a mound in the sea, shall make an island a peninsula, and, amid the waves of the sea, land shall give an entrance to the city."
The mount, or heaped-up earth, by which the besiegers fought on a level with the besieged, or planted their engines at advantage, was an old and simple form of siege, especially adapted to the great masses of the Eastern armies. It was used in David's time Sa2 20:15; and by the Assyrians Kg2 19:32, Egyptians Ezra 17:17, Babylonians (Jer 6:6; Jer 32:24; Jer 33:4; Eze 4:2; Eze 21:22 (Eze 21:27 in Hebrew), Eze 26:8), and afterward, the Persians (Herodotus i. 162). Here he describes the rapidity of the siege. To heap up dust and to capture were one and the same thing.
It needed no great means; things slight as the dust sufficed in the hands of those employed by God. Portion by portion Kg2 24:7, "the King of Babylon took; all that pertained to the king of Egypt, from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates."
Then shall his mind change - or, better, "Then he sweeps by, חלף châlaph is used of the overflowing of a river, Isa 8:8, of a wind chasing, Isa 21:1, of the invisible presence of God passing by, Job 9:11, or a spirit, Job 4:15, of the swift passing of our days, like ship or eagle, Job 10:26, of idols utterly passing away. Isa 2:18, of rain past and gone, Sol 2:11. It is, together with עבר ‛âbar, used of transgressing God's law Isa 24:5. It is always intransitive, except as piercing the temples of man Jdg 5:26, or himself Job 20:24.
A wind - רוח rûach, metaphor for simile, as Psa 11:1; Psa 22:14; (13 English) Psa 90:4; Job 24:5; Isa 51:12)
And passes - עבר ‛âbar "pass over" (with חלף châlaph, as here,), Isa 8:8; Nah 1:8; Hab 3:10; "transgress," passim; "pass away," Psa 37:6; Job 34:29; Nah 1:12)
And is guilty; this his strength is his god - The victory was completed, all resistance ended. He sweeps by, as his own Euphrates, when over-filled by the swelling Isa 8:8 of all its tributary streams, riseth up over all its banks, and overwhelms all where it passes; as a wind which sweepeth Isa 21:1 over the desert: and passes over all bounds and laws, human and divine, and is guilty and stands guilty before God, making himself as God.
This his power is his god - God had said to Israel Exo 6:7, "I will be to thee God." The Chaldaean virtually said, "this my strength is to me my god." This Nebuchadnezzars own words speak Dan 4:30; "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" And the statue which was to be worshipped, was, very probably, of himself, as the intoxication of pride has made other pagan kings or conquerors, Alexander or Darius. Belshazzar said Isa 14:14, "I will be like the Most High," and the prince of Tyre said Eze 28:2, "I am a god, and antichrist shall "exalt himself above all that is called god, and, as God, sit in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is god" Th2 2:4. Such is all pride. It sets itself in the place of God, it ceases to think of itself as God's instrument, and so becomes a god to itself, as though its eminence and strength were its own, and its wisdom were the source of its power (See Eze 28:2-5), and its will the measure of its greatness. The words, with a divine fullness, express severally, that the king Shall sweep along, shall pass over all bounds and all hindrances, and shall pass away, shall be guilty and shall bear his guilt ; and so they comprise in one his sin and his punishment, his greatness and his fall. And so, 40 years afterward Nebuchadnezzar, Dan 5:19-20. "whom he would, he slew; and whom he would, he kept alive; and whom he would, he set up; and whom he would, he put down; but when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him;" Dan 4:31, "there fell a voice from heaven, The kingdom is departed from thee; and Belshazzar; Dan 5:23, Dan 5:30, "in the same night that he lifted up himself against the Lord of heaven, was slain."
The prophet, having summed up the deeds of the enemy of God in this his end, sets forth his questions anew. He had appealed against the evil of the wicked of his people; he had been told of the vengeance by the Chaldaeans (Heading of Hab. 1). But the vengeance is executed by them who are far worse. How then? The answer is: "Wait to the end, and thou shalt see." What remains are the triumphs of faith; the second chapter closes with the entire prostration of the whole world before God, and the whole prophecy with joyous trust in God amid the entire failure of all outward signs of hope. Here, like the Psalmists (Asaph, Ps. 73 Ethan Psa 76:1-12) and Jeremiah Jer 12:1, he sets down at the very beginning his entire trust in God, and so, in the name of all who at any time shall be perplexed about the order of God's judgments, asks how it shall be, teaching us that the only safe way of enquiring into God's ways is by setting out with a living conviction that they, Psa 25:10, are "mercy and truth." And so the address to God is full of awe and confidence and inward love. For "God placeth the oil of mercy in the vessel of trustfulness."
Art Thou not - (the word has always an emphasis) "Thou" and not whatsoever or whosoever it be that is opposed to Thee (be it Nebuchadnezzar or Satan).
From everlasting - literally, from before? See the note at Mic 5:2. Go back as far as man can in thought - God was still before; and so, much more before any of His creatures, such as those who rebel against Him.
O Lord - it is the proper name of God, Rev 1:8, "Which is and Which was and Which is to come" - I am, the Unchangeable; my God, i. e., whereas his own might is (he had just said) the pagan's god, the Lord is his;
Mine Holy One - one word, denoting that God is his God, sufficeth him not, but he adds (what does not elsewhere occur) "mine Holy One" in every way, as hallowing him and hallowed by him. Dion.: "Who hallowest my soul, Holy in Thine Essence, and whom as incomparably Holy I worship in holiness." All-Holy in Himself, He becometh the Holy One of him to whom He imparteth Himself, and so, by His own gift, belongeth, as it were, to him. The one word in Hebrew wonderfully fits in with the truth, that God becomes one with man by taking him to Himself. It is fall of inward trust too, that he saith, "my God, my Holy One," as Paul saith, Gal 2:9, "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me," i. e., as Augustine explains it , "O Thou God Omnipotent, who so carest for every one of us, as if Thou caredst for him only; and so for all, as if tbey were but one." The title, "my Holy One," includes his people with himself; for God was his God, primarily because he was one of the people of God; and his office was for and in behalf of his people.
It involves then that other title which had been the great support of Isaiah , by which he at once comforted his people, and impressed upon them the holiness of their God, the holiness which their relation to their God required, the Holy One of Israel. Thence, since Habakkuk lived, for his people with himself, on this relation to God, as my God, my Holy One, and that God, the Unchangeable; it follows," We shall not die." There is no need of any mark of inference, "therefore we shall not die." It is an inference, but it so lay in those titles of God, "He Is, My God, My Holy One," that it was a more loving confidence to say directly, we shall not die. The one thought involved the other. God, the Unchangeable, had made Himself their God. It was impossible, then, that lie should cast them off or that they should perish.
We shall not die, is the lightning thought of faith, which flashes on the soul like all inspirations of God, founded on His truth and word, but borne in, as it were, instinctively without inference on the soul, with the same confidence as the Psalmist says Psa 118:18, "The Lord hath chastened me sore; but He hath not given me over unto death;" and Malachi Mal 3:6, "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." Jerome: "Thou createdst us from the beginning; by Thy mercy we are in being hitherto." Thy "gifts and calling are without repentance." Rom 11:29 "did we look to his might; none of us could withstand him. Look we to Thy mercy, Thine alone is it that we live, are not slain by him, nor led to deeds of death." O Lord, again he repeats the Name of God, whereby He had revealed Himself as their God, the Unchangeable; "Thou, whose mercies fail not, hast ordained them for judgment," not for vengeance or to make a full end, or for his own ends and pleasure, but to correct Thine own Jer 10:24; Jer 30:11 in measure, which he, exceeding, sinned (See Isa 10:5; Isa 47:6; Zac 1:15).
And O mighty God - literally, Rock. It is a bold title. "My rock" is a title much used by David , perhaps suggested by the fastnesses amid which he passed his hunted life, to express that not in them but in His God was his safety. Habakkuk purposely widens it. He appeals to God, not only as Israel's might and upholder, but as the sole Source of all strength, the Supporter of all which is upheld , and so, for the time, of the Chaldaean too. Hence, he continues the simple image: "Thou hast founded him" . "Thou hast made him to stand firm as the foundation of a building;" to reprove or set before those who have sinned against Thee, what they had done. Since then God was the Rock, who had founded them, from Him Alone had they strength; when He should withdraw it, they must fall. How then did they yet abide, who abused the power given them and counted it their own? And this the more, since ...
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil - The prophet repeats his complaint (as troubling thoughts are accustomed to come back, after they have been repelled,), in order to answer it more strongly. All sin is hateful in God's sight, and in His Holy Wisdom He cannot endure to "look toward iniquity." As man turns away from sickening sights, so God's abhorrence of wrong is pictured by His not being able to "look toward it." If He looked toward them, they must perish Psa 104:32. Light cannot co-exist with darkness, fire with water, heat with cold, deformity with beauty, foulness with sweetness, nor is sin compatible with the Presence of God, except as its Judge and punisher. Thou canst not look. There is an entire contradiction between God and unholiness. And yet,
Wherefore lookest thou upon - viewest, as in Thy full sight make the contrast stronger. God cannot endure "to look toward" (אל) iniquity, and yet He does not only this, but beholdeth it, contemplateth it, and still is silent), yea, as it would seem, with favor , bestowing upon them the goods of this life, honor, glory, children, riches, as the Psalmist saith Psa 73:12; "Behold these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world, they increase in riches?" Why lookest thou upon "them that deal treacherously, holdest Thy tongue," puttest restraint , as it were, upon Thyself and Thine own attribute of Justice, "when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" Psa 143:2 "in God's sight no man living can be justified;" and, in one sense, Sodom and Gomorrah were less unrighteous than Jerusalem, and Mat 10:15; Mat 11:24; Mar 6:11; Luk 10:12 "it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of Judgment," because they sinned against less light; yet the actual sins of the Chaldee were greater than those of Jerusalem, and Satan's evil is greater than that of these who are his prey.
To say that Judah was more righteous than the Chaldaean does not imply any righteousness of the Chaldaean, as the saying that (Jer 31:11, Del.) "God ransomed Jacob from the hand of one stronger than he," does not imply any strength remaining to Israel. Then, also, in all the general judgments of God, the righteous too suffer in this world, whence Abraham intercedes for Sodom, if there were but ten righteous in it; lest Gen 18:23 "the righteous be destroyed with the wicked." Hence, God also spared Nineveh in part as having Jon 4:11 "more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand," i. e., good from evil. No times were more full of sin than those before the destruction of Jerusalem, yet the fury of the Assassins fell upon the innocent. And so the words, like the voice of the souls under the Altar Rev 6:10, become the cry of the Church at all times against the oppressing world, and of the blood of the martyrs from Abel to the end, "Lord, how long?" And in that the word "righteous" signifies both "one righteous man," and the whole class or generation of the righteous, it speaks both of Christ the Head and of all His members in whom (as by Saul) He was persecuted. The wicked also includes all persecutors, both those who executed the Lord Christ, and those who brought His servants before judgment-seats, and who blasphemed His Name Jam 2:6-7, and caused many to blaspheme, and killed those whom they could not compel. And God, all the while, seemeth to look away and not to regard.
And makest men as the fishes of the sea - mute, helpless, in a stormy, restless element, no cry heard, but themselves swept away in shoals, with no power to resist.
As the creeping things - whether of the land (as it is mostly used), or the sea Psa 104:25. Either way, it is a contemptuous name for the lowest of either.
That have no ruler over them - none to guide, order, protect them, and so a picture of man deprived of the care and providence of God.
They take up all of them - (literally "he taketh up all of it") the whole race as though it were one,
With an angle; they catch them - literally, he sweepeth it away
In their (his) net - One fisherman is singled out who partly by wiles (as by the bait of "an angle"), partly by violence (the net or drag) sweeps away and gathers as his own the whole kind. Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldaeans are herein a faint image of Satan, who casts out his baits and his nets in the stormy sea of this life, taking some by individual craft, sweeping others in whole masses, to do evil; and whoso hath no ruler, and will not have Christ to reign over him Luk 19:4, he allures, hurries, drags away as his prey. Jerome: "Adam clave to his hook, and he drew him forth out of Paradise with his net; and covered him with his drags, his varied and manifold deceits and guiles. And "by one many became sinners," and in Adam we 'all died,' and all saints afterward were with him alike cast out of Paradise. And because he deceived the first man, he ceaseth not daily to slay the whole human race."
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag - literally he sacrifices unto his, etc. Whatever a man trusts in is his god. If a man relies to compass his end by his strength, or his wisdom, or his forethought, or his wealth, his armies or navies, these his forces are his God. So the Assyrian said Isa 10:13, Isa 10:15, "By the strength of my hand I did it; and by my wisdom, for I am prudent;" and God answered, "Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?" The coarse forms of idolatry only embody outwardly the deep inward idolatry of the corrupt human mind. The idol is Eze 14:4 "set up in the heart" first. There have not indeed been lacking savage nations, who in very deed worshiped their arms ; those of old worshiped spears as immortal gods ; Even now we are told of some North American Indians "who designate their bow and arrow as the only beneficent deities whom they know."
Among the civilized Romans, the worship of the eagles, their standards to whom they did sacrifice , was no other nor better. The inward idolatry is only a more subtle form of the same sin, the evil spirit which shapes itself in the outward show. Here the idolatry of self is meant, which did not join creatures with God as objects of worship; but denying, Him in practice or misbelief, became aged to itself . So Habakkuk had said, this his strength is his God. His idol was himself.
Because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous - literally, is in the English margin, well-fed). All the choicest things of the world stood at his command, as Nebuchadnezzar boasted (Dan 4:30, compare 22), and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, all the knowledge and wisdom and learning of the world, and the whole world itself, were Satan's lawful prey Luk 4:6; Joh 12:31; Isa 49:24 Cyril: "Nebuchadnezzar, as by a hook and meshes and line, swept into his own land both Israel himself and other nations, encompassing them. Satan, as it were, by one line and net, that of sin, enclosed all, and Israel especially, on account of his impiety to Christ. "His food was choice." For Israel was chosen above the rest, as from a holy root, that of the fathers, and having the "law as a schoolmaster," and being called to the knowledge of the one true God. Yet he, having this glory and grace, was taken with the rest. They became his prey by error; but Israel, knowing Him who is by nature God, in an ungodly manner, slaying Him who was by nature His Begotten Son and who came as Man, were taken in his nets."
Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations? - The prophet, like Isaiah Isa 18:4-5, stands at the very last point, before the fury and desire of the enemy was fulfilled. People, like fish, were gathered together for a prey; he who had taken them was rejoicing and exulting beforehand in his booty; his portion and meat were the choice of the earth; the prophet leeks on, as it were, and beholds the net full; there is but one step more; "Shall he empty it? Shall he then devour those whom he has caught? and so cast his emptied net again unceasingly, pitilessly, to slay the nations?" This question he answers in the next chapter - A Deliverer will come!