Adam Clarke Commentary
The prophet enters very abruptly on his subject, his spirit being greatly indignant at the rapid progress of vice and impiety, Habakkuk 1:1-4. Upon which God is introduced threatening very awful and sudden judgments to be indicted by the ministry of the Chaldeans, Habakkuk 1:5-10. The Babylonians attribute their wonderful successes to their idols, Habakkuk 1:11. The prophet then, making a sudden transition, expostulates with God (probably personating the Jews) for permitting a nation much more wicked than themselves, as they supposed, to oppress and devour them, as fishers and foulers do their prey, Habakkuk 1:12-17.
The burden - המשא (hammassa) signifies not only the burdensome prophecy, but the prophecy or revelation itself which God presented to the mind of Habakkuk, and which he saw-clearly perceived, in the light of prophecy and then faithfully declared, as this book shows. The word signifies an oracle or revelation in general; but chiefly, one relative to future calamities.
O Lord, how long shall I cry - The prophet feels himself strongly excited against the vices which he beheld; and which, it appears from this verse, he had often declaimed against, but in vain; the people continued in their vices, and God in his longsuffering.
Of violence - The most unlawful and outrageous acts.
And cause me to behold grievance - עמל (amal), labor, toil, distress, misery, etc., the common fruits of sin.
The law is slacked - They pay no attention to it; it has lost all its vigor, its restraining and correcting power, it is not executed; right judgment is never pronounced; and the poor righteous man complains in vain that he is grievously oppressed by the wicked, and by those in power and authority. That the utmost depravity prevailed in the land of Judah is evident from these verses; and can we wonder, then, that God poured out such signal judgments upon them? When judgment doth not proceed from the seat of judgment upon earth, it will infallibly go forth from the throne of judgment in heaven.
Behold ye among the heathen - Instead of בגוים (baggoyim), among the nations or heathen, some critics think we should read בגדים (bogedim), transgressors; and to the same purpose the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic have read; and thus it is quoted by St. Paul Acts 13:41. But neither this, nor any tantamount reading, is found in any of the MSS. yet collated. Newcome translates, “See, ye transgressors, and behold a wonder, and perish.”
I will work a work in your days - As he is speaking of the desolation that should be produced by the Chaldeans, it follows, as Bp. Newcome has justly observed, that the Chaldeans invaded Judah whilst those were living whom the prophet addressed.
Which ye will not believe - Nor did they, after all the declarations of various prophets. They still supposed that God would not give them up into the hands of their enemies, though they continued in their abominations!
That bitter and hasty nation - Cruel and oppressive in their disposition; and prompt and speedy in their assaults and conquests.
Their judgment - shall proceed of themselves - By revolting from the Assyrians, they have become a great nation. Thus, their judgment and excellence were the result of their own valor. Other meanings are given to this passage.
Their horses also are swifter than the leopards - The Chaldean cavalry are proverbial for swiftness, courage, etc. In Jeremiah, Jeremiah 4:13, it is said, speaking of Nebuchadnezzar, “His chariots are as a whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles.”
The evening wolves - The wolf is remarkable for his quick sight. Aelian says, Οξυωτεστατον εστι ζωον, και μεντοι, και νυκτος και σεληνης ουκ ουσης ὁδε ὁρᾳ ; “The wolf is a very fleet animal; and, besides, it can see by night, even when there is no moonlight.” Some think the hyena is meant: it is a swift, cruel, and untameable animal. The other prophets speak of the Chaldeans in the same way. See Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:5; Lamentations 4:19.
Their faces shall sup up as the east wind - This may be an allusion to those electrical winds which prevail in that country. Mr. Jackson, in his overland journey from India, mentions his having bathed in the Tigris. On his coming out of the river one of those winds passed over him, and, in a moment, carried off every particle of water that was on his body and in his bathing dress. So, the Chaldeans shall leave no substance behind them; their faces, their bare appearance, is the proof that nothing good shall be left.
Shall gather the captivity as the sand - They shall carry off innumerable captives.
They shall scoff at the kings - No power shall be able to stand before them. It will be only as pastime to them to take the strongest places. They will have no need to build formidable ramparts: by sweeping the dust together they shall make mounts sufficient to pass over the walls and take the city.
Then shall his mind change - This is thought to relate to the change which took place in Nebuchadnezzar, when “a beast‘s heart was given to him,” and he was “driven from the dwellings of men.” And this was because of his offending - his pride and arrogance; and his attributing all his success, etc., to his idols.
Art thou not frown everlasting - The idols change, and their worshippers change and fail: but thou, Jehovah, art eternal; thou canst not change, and they who trust in thee are safe. Thou art infinite in thy mercy; therefore, “we shall not die,” shall not be totally exterminated.
Thou hast ordained them for judgment - Thou hast raised up the Chaldeans to correct and punish us; but thou hast not given them a commission to destroy us totally.
Thou art of purer eyes - Seeing thou art so pure, and canst not look on iniquity - it is so abominable - how canst thou bear with them who “deal treacherously, and hold thy tongue when the wicked devour the righteous?” All such questions are easily solved by a consideration of God‘s ineffable mercy, which leads him to suffer long and be kind. He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner.
Makest men as the fishes of the sea - Easily are we taken and destroyed. We have no leader to guide us, and no power to defend ourselves. Nebuchadnezzar is here represented as a fisherman, who is constantly casting his nets into the sea, and enclosing multitudes of fishes; and, being always successful, he sacrifices to his own net - attributes all his conquests to his own power and prudence; not considering that he is only like a net that after having been used for a while, shall at last be thrown by as useless, or burnt in the fire.
They sacrifice unto their net - He had no God; he cared for none; and worshipped only his armor and himself. King Mezentius, one of the worst characters in the Aeneid of Virgil, is represented as invoking his own right hand and his spear in battle. Aen. 10:773.
And Capaneus, in Statius, gives us a more decisive proof of this self-idolatry. Thebaid, lib. x.
The poet tells us that, for his impiety, Jupiter slew him with thunder.
And not spare continually to slay the nation? - They are running from conquest to conquest; burning, slaying, sacking, and slaughtering. Like the fishermen, who throw cast after cast while any fish are to be caught, so Nebuchadnezzar is destroying one nation after another. This last sentence explains the allegory of the net.
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