Book Overview - Habakkuk
by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Habakkuk
Habakkuk is eminently the prophet of reverential, awe-filled faith. This is the soul and center of his prophecy. One word alone he addresses directly to his people. It is of marvel at their lack of faith Habakkuk 1:5. “Behold among the heathen and gaze attentively, and marvel, marvel; for I am working a work in your days; ye will not believe, when it is declared unto you.” He bids them behold, and gaze, for God is about to work in their own days; he bids them prepare themselves to marvel, and marvel on; for it was a matter, at which political wisdom would stagger; and they, since they did not have faith, would not believe it. The counterpart to this, is that great blessing of faith, which is the key-stone of his whole book Habakkuk 2:4: “the just shall live by his faith.”
Isaiah had foretold to Hezekiah that his treasures would be carried to Babylon, his sons would be eunuchs in the palace of its king Isaiah 39:6-7. He had foretold the destruction of Babylon and the restoration of the Jews Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 47:1-15. Prophecy in Habakkuk, full as it is, is almost subordinate. His main subject is, that which occupied Asaph in Job 19:25, or Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and after that receive me into glow, in Asaph Psalm 73:24.
His first subject is, faith struggling under the oppressive sight of the sufferings of the good from the bad within God‘s people; the second subject is the suffering at the hands of those who are God‘s instruments to avenge that wickedness. The third subject, that of his great hymn, is faith, not jubilant until the end, yet victorious, praying, believing, seeing in vision what it prays for, and triumphing in that, of which it sees no tokens, whose only earnest is God‘s old loving-kindnesses to His people, and His Name, under which He had revealed Himself, “He Who Is,” the Unchangeable.
The whole prophecy is, so to speak, a colloquy between the prophet and God. He opens it with a reverential, earnest, appeal to God, like that of the saints under the heavenly Altar in the Book of Revelation Revelation 6:10, “How long?” The prophet had prayed to God to end or mitigate the violence, oppressions, strife, contention, despoiling, powerlessness, of the law, crookedness of justice, entrapping of the righteous by the wicked Habakkuk 1:2-4. God answers Habakkuk 1:6-11, that a terrible day of retribution was coming, that He Himself would raise up the Chaldees, as the instruments of His chastisements, terrible, self-dependent, owning no law or authority but their own will, deifying their own power, sweeping the whole breadth of the land, possessing themselves of it, taking every fenced city, and gathering captives as the sand. This answers one-half of Habakkuk‘s question, as to the prosperity of the wicked among his people. It leaves the other half, as to the condition of the righteous, unanswered, for such scourges of God swept away the righteous with the wicked. Habakkuk then renews the question as to them. But, just Asaph began by declaring his faith Psalm 73:1, “All-good is God to Israel,” the true Israel, the pure of heart, so Habakkuk: “Israel would not die, because He, their God, is Unchangeable Habakkuk 1:12. “Art not Thou of old, O Lord, my God, my holy One? We shall not die; Thou, O Lord, hast set him (the Aramaic) for judgment, and Thou, O Rock, hast founded him to chasten.” Then he appeals to God, “Why then is this? “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil - wherefore keepest Thou silence, when the wicked devoureth him who is more righteous than he?” This closes the first chapter and the first vision, in which he describes, with the vividness of one who saw it before him, the irresistible invasion of the Chaldaeans. Israel was meshed as in a net; should that net be emptied Habakkuk 1:17?
Habakkuk 2:2, “Write the vision” i. e., the prophecy, “and make it plain on the tables,” whereon the prophet was accustomed to write, “that he may run who reads it.” He says also, that it is for a time fixed in the mind of God, and that however, in man‘s sight, it might seem to linger, it would not be anything behind the time Habakkuk 2:3. Then he gives the answer itself in the words Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold his soul which is puffed up is not upright in him; and the just shall live by his faith.”
The swelling pride and self-dependence of the Chaldee stands in contrast with the trustful submission of faith. Of the one God says, it has no ground of uprightness, and consequently will not stand before God; of faith, he says, the righteous shall live by it. But the life plainly is not the life of the body. For Habakkuk‘s ground of complaint was the world-wasting cruelty of the Chaldees. The woe on the Chaldee which follows is even chiefly for bloodshed, in which the righteous and the wicked are massacred alike. The simple word, shall live, is an entire denial of death, a denial even of any interruption of life. It stands in the same fullness as those words of our Lord John 14:19, “because I live, ye shall live also.” The other side of the picture, the fall of the Yet it is manifestly intensive. It most resembles Chaldees, is given in greater fullness, because the fulfillment of God‘s word in things seen was the pledge of the fulfillment of those beyond the veil of sense and time. In a measured dirge he pronounces a five-fold woe on the five great sins of the Chaldees, their ambition Habakkuk 2:5, Habakkuk 2:8, covetousness Habakkuk 2:9-11, violence Habakkuk 2:12-14, insolence Habakkuk 2:15-17, idolatry Habakkuk 2:18-20. It closes with the powerlessness of the Chaldee idols against God, and bids the whole world be hushed before the presence of the One God, its Maker, awaiting His sentence.
Then follows the prayer, that God would revive His work for Israel, which now seemed dead. He describes the revival as coming, under the images of God‘s miraculous deliverances of old. The division of the Red Sea and the Jordan, the standing-still of the sun and moon under Joshua, are images of future deliverances; all nature shakes and quivers at the presence of its Maker. Yet not it, but the wicked were the object of His displeasure. The prophet sees his people delivered as at the Red Sea, just when the enemy seemed ready to sweep them away, as with a whirlwind. And, in sight of the unseen, he closes with that wondrous declaration of faith, that all nature should be desolate, all subsistence gone, everything, contrary to God‘s promises of old to His people, should be around him,” and I will rejoice in the Lord, I will exult for joy in the God of my salvation.”
This prophecy is not less distinct, because figurative. Rather it is the declaration of God‘s deliverance of His people, not from the Chaldees only, but at all times. The evil is concentrated in one Evil one, who stands over against the One anointed. “Thou art gone forth for the salvation of Thy people; for salvation with Thine anointed One. Thou crushedst the head out of the house of the wicked One, laying bare the foundation unto the neck,” i. e., smiting the house at once, above and below; with an utter destruction. It belongs then the more to all times, until the closing strife between evil and good, Christ and Antichrist, the ἄνομος anomos and the Lord. It includes the Chaldee, and each great Empire which opposes itself to the kingdom of God, and declares that, as God delivered His people of old so He would unto the end.
It may be that Habakkuk chose this name to express the strong faith, whereby he embraced the promises of God. At least, it means one who “strongly enfolds.”
Also, perhaps it is on account of the form in which his prophecy is cast, as being spoken (with the exception of that one verse) to God or to the Chaldaean, not to his own people, that he added the title of Prophet to his name. “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see” (Habakkuk 1:1, add Habakkuk 3:1). For, however the name “prophet” includes all to whom revelations from God came, it is nowhere, in the Old Testament, added as the name of an office to any one, who did not exercise the practical office of the Prophet. Our Lord quotes David as the Prophet Matthew 13:35, and God says to Abimelech of Abraham Genesis 20:7, He is a Prophet, and, in reference to this, the Psalmist speaks of the Patriarchs, as Prophets Psalm 105:14-15. “He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed and do My prophets no harm,” and Hosea speaks of Moses as a prophet Hosea 12:13, and Peter says of David, Acts 2:30, “He being a prophet.” But the title is nowhere in the Old Testament added to the name as it is here, Habakkuk the prophet, and as it is elsewhere Samuel the prophet 2 Chronicles 35:18, the prophet Gad, 1 Samuel 22:5, Nathan the prophet 1 Kings 1:32, Ahijah the prophet 1 Kings 11:29, the prophet Jehu 1 Kings 16:7, 1 Kings 16:12, Elijah the prophet 1 Kings 18:36, Elisha the prophet 2 Kings 6:12, Shemaiah the prophet 2 Chronicles 12:5, the prophet Iddo, 2 Chronicles 13:22, the prophet Obed 2 Chronicles 15:8, Isaiah the prophet 2 Kings 19:2; 2 Kings 20:1, Jeremiah the prophet Jeremiah 28:6; Jeremiah 36:26; 2 Chronicles 36:12, Haggai the prophet Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14, unless any have exercised the prophetic office. The title of the Prophet is not, in the Old Testament, added to the names of Jacob or even of Moses or David or Solomon or Daniel, although they all prophesied of Christ.
Since Holy Scripture often conveys so much incidentally, it may be that a large range of ministerial office is hinted in the words “write on the tables;” for “the tables” must have been well-known tables, tables upon which prophets (as Isaiah) and probably Habakkuk himself was accustomed to write. The writing of a few emphatic unexplained words in a public place, which should arouse curiosity, or startle passers-by, would be in harmony with the symbolical actions, enjoined on the prophets and used by them. The “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,” had, from their mysteriousness, an impressiveness of their own, apart from the miracle of the writing.
The words appended to the prophecy, “to the chief singer,” (as we should say, “the leader of the band” ‹) “with or on my stringed instruments,” imply, not only that the hymn became part of the devotions of the temple, but that Habakkuk too had a part in the sacred music which accompanied it. The word so rendered, neginothui, could only mean my stringed instrument‘s, or “my song accompanied with music,” as Hezekiah says Isaiah 38:20, “we will sing my songs on the stringed instruments, nenaggen neginothai.” But in Habakkuk‘s subscription, “To the chief musician binginothai,” neginoth can have no other meaning than in the almost identical inscription of Psalms Psalm 4:1-8; Psalm 6:1-10; Psalm 54:1-7; Psalm 61:1-8; Psalm 67:1-7; Psalm 76:1-12, “To the chief musician binginoth,” nor this any other than with stringed instruments, “instruments struck with the hand.” (Coll. 1 Samuel 17:16, 1 Samuel 17:23; 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9; 2 Kings 3:15). The addition, “with my stringed instruments,” shows that Habakkuk himself was to accompany his hymn with instrumental music, and since the mention of the chief musician marks out that it was to form part of the temple-service, Habakkuk must have been entitled to take part in the temple-music, and so must have been a Levite. The Levitical order then had its prophet, as the sacerdotal in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The tradition in the title to Bel and the Dragon, whatever its value, agrees with this; “from the prophecy of Ambakum, son of Jesus, of the tribe of Levi.”
This, however, does not give us any hint as to the time when Habakkuk prophesied. For, bad as were the times of Manasseh and Amon, their idolatry consisted in associating idols with God, setting them up in His courts, bringing one even into His temple 2 Kings 21:7, not in doing away His service. They set the two services, and the two opinions 1 Kings 18:21, side by side, adding the false, but not abolishing the true, “consenting to differ,” leaving to the worshipers of God their religion, while forcing them to endure, side by side, what seemed an addition, but what was, in fact, a denial. Habakkuk then might have been allowed to present his hymn for the temple-service, while the king placed in the same temple the statue of Astarte, and required its devil‘s worship to be carried on there. The temple was allowed to go into some degree of decay, for Josiah had it repaired; but we read only of his removing idols, 2 Kings 23:6, not or his having to restore the disused service of God. Of Ahaz it is recorded, that 2 Chronicles 28:24 he shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, which Hezekiah had to open 2 Chronicles 29:3. Nothing of this sort is told of Manasseh and Amon.
Habakkuk, however, has two hints, which determine his age within a few years. He says that the invasion of the Chaldaeans was to be in the days of those to whom he speaks; “in your days” Habakkuk 1:5. Accordingly, he must have spoken to adults, many of whom would survive that invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, in the 4th year of Jehoiakim 605 b.c. He can hardly have prophesied before 645 b.c., about the close of Manasseh‘s reign; for at this date, those who were 20 at the time of the prophecy, would have been 60, at the time of its commenced fulfillment at the battle of Carchemish. On the other hand, in that he speaks of that invasion as a thing incredible to those to whom he was speaking, he must have prophesied before Babylon became independent by the overthrow of Nineveh, 625 b.c. For when Babylon had displaced Nineveh, and divided the Empire of the East with Media and Egypt, it was not a thing incredible, that it would invade Judah in their own days, although it was beyond human knowledge to declare that it certainly would. The Babylonian Empire itself lasted only 89 years; and, to human sight, Judah had as much or more to fear from Egypt as from Babylon. The Median Empire also might as well have swallowed up Judah for the time, as the Babylonian.
The relation of Zephaniah to Habakkuk coincides with this. Zephaniah certainly adopted the remarkable words Then when a writer, who uses much the language of those before him, has an idiom which occurs once beside in Holy Scripture, there being many other expressions, which might equally have been used, any one unbiased would think that he adopted the language of the other. Stahelin admits the connection, but inverts the argument, contrary to the character of both prophets), literally Zephaniah 1:7, “Hush at the presence of the Lord God,” from Habakkuk‘s fuller form; Habakkuk 2:20, “the Lord is in His holy temple; hush at His presence all the earth!”
But Zephaniah prophesied under Josiah, before the destruction of Nineveh b.c. 625, which he foretold Zephaniah 2:13. Habakkuk was also, at latest, an earlier contemporary of Jeremiah who, in one place, at least, in his earlier prophecies, used his language as he does so often, of set purpose, that of the prophets before him, in order to show that the fullness of their prophecies was not yet exhausted. But Jeremiah began to prophesy in the 13th year of Josiah 629 b.c. Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 25:3 Habakkuk, on the other hand, joins himself on with the old prophets and Psalms by the employment of language of Isaiah (Habakkuk 2:14, is from Isaiah 11:9; the form of Habakkuk 1:5 seems suggested by Isaiah 29:9; the standing on the watch-tower Habakkuk 2:1, occurs in Isaiah 21:8; the writing on tables occurs in Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 30:8, and Habakkuk 2:2; the imagery, “he bath enlarged his desire as hell,” Habakkuk 2:5, was probably suggested by Isaiah 5:14. Havernick Symb. ad defend. authentiam vat. Ies. c. 13 - xiv. 23. p. 37ff in Delitzsch Hab. p. viii) and perhaps of Micah (Habakkuk 2:12, and Micah 3:10), by the use of language of Deuteronomy (From Habakkuk 3:10-15), but does not systematically renew their prophecies like Jeremiah or Zephaniah
The ministry then of Habakkuk falls in the latter half of the reign of Manasseh or the earlier half of that of Josiah (for the reign of Amon, being of two years only, is too short to come into account), and there is no decisive evidence for either against the other. In the reign of Manasseh, we are expressly told, that there were prophets, sent to foretell a destruction of Jerusalem as complete as that of Samaria, on account of the exceeding wickedness, into which Manasseh seduced his people. “The Lord spake by His servants, the prophets, saying, Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols. Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down; and I will forsake the remnant of their inheritance, and deliver them into the baud of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and spoil to all their enemies” 2 Kings 21:11-14.
The sinful great men of Manasseh‘s and Amon‘s court and judicature are but too likely to have maintained their power in the early years of the reign of Josiah. For a boy of eight years old (at which age Josiah succeeded his father) 2 Kings 22:1; 2 Chronicles 34:1 could, amid whatsoever sense of right and piety, do little to stem the established wrong and ungodliness of the evil counsellors and judges of his father and grandfather. The sins, which Jeremiah denounces, as the cause of the future captivity of Jerusalem, are the very same, of which Habakkuk complains, “oppression, violence, spoil” Zephaniah 1:9. Jeremiah speaks, in the concrete, of total absence of right judgment (Jeremiah 6:19. “My law they have despised it;” Jeremiah 5:28. “they have not judged the cause, the cause of the fatherless, and they prosper; and the judgment of the poor have they not judged.”) as Habakkuk, in the abstract, of the powerlessness of the law (Habakkuk 1:4, “the law is chilled, and judgment will never go forth; for the wicked encompasseth the just; therefore judgment goeth forth perverted.”) Zephaniah gives the like picture of those earlier years under Josiah (Zephaniah 1:9. where he too foretells the punishment of those, “which fill their masters‘ houses with violence and deceit” and Zephaniah 3:1-4).
But Habakkuk‘s description would not suit the later years of Josiah, when judgment and justice were done. “Did not thy father,” Jeremiah appeals to Jehoiakim, Jeremiah 22:15-16, “eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him; he judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him; was not this to know Me? saith the Lord.” (Dr. Davidson rightly says, “the spoiling and violence, there Habakkuk 1:2-3 depicted, refer to the internal condition of the theocracy, not to external injuries” (p. 305); but then he contradicts himself and Jeremiah when he says (p. 305) following Ewald (Proph. ii. 30), “The safest conclusion respecting the time of the prophet, is that he lived in the time of Jehoiakim (606-604 B. C), when the kingdom of Judah was in a good moral condition, justice and righteousness having entered into the life of the people after Josiah‘s reforms, and idolatry having almost disappeared.”) But while there is nothing to preclude his having prophesied in either reign, the earliest tradition places him in the close of the reign of Manasseh.
Modern critics have assigned an earlier or later date to Habakkuk, accordingly as they believed that God did, or did not, reveal the future to man, that there was or was not, superhuman prophecy. Those who denied that God did endow His prophets with knowledge above nature, fell into two classes;
(1) Such as followed Eichhorn‘s unnatural hypothesis, that prophecies were only histories of the past, spoken of, as if it were still future, to which these critics gave the shameless title of “vaticinia post eventum.”. These plainly involved the prophets in fraud.
(2) These who laid down that each prophet lived at a time, when he could, with human foresight, tell what would happen. Would that those who count certainty, as to even a near future, to be so easy a thing, would try their hands at predicting the events of the next few years or months, or even days and, if they fail, acknowledge God‘s Truth! This prejudice, that there could be no real prophecy, ruled, for a time, all German criticism. It cannot be denied, that “the unbelief was the parent of the criticism, not the criticism of the unbelief.” It is simple matter of history, that the unbelief came first; and, if men, a priori, disbelieved that there could be prophecy, it must needs be a postulate of their criticism, that what seemed to be prophecy could not have belonged to a date, when human foresight did not suffice for positive prediction. I will use the words of Delitzsch rather than my own;
“The investigation into the age of Habakkuk could be easily and briefly settled, if we would start from the prejudice, which is the soul of modern criticism, that a prediction of the future, which rested, not on human inferences or on a natural gift of divination, but on supernatural illumination, is impossible. For since Habakkuk foretold the invasion of the Chaldees, he must, in such ease, have come forward at a time, at which natural acuteness could, with certainty, determine bcforehand that sad event; accordingly in or after the time of the battle of Carchemish in the 4th year of Jehoiakim Jeremiah 46:2; 606 b.c. In this decisive battle, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho, and it was more than probable that the king of Babylon would now turn against Judea, since Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, had been set on the throne by Pharaoh Necho 2 Kings 23:34-35, and so held with Egypt. And this is in reality the inference of modern critics.
They bring the Chaldaeans so close under the eyes of the prophet, that he could, by way of nature, foresee their invasion; and so much the closer under his eyes, the more deeply the prejudice, that there is no prophecy in the Biblical sense of the word, has taken root in them, and the more consistently they follow it out. “Habakkuk prophesied under Jehoiakim, for,” so Jager expresses himself, “since Jehoiakim was on the side of the Egyptians, it was easy to foresee, that; etc.” Just so Ewald; “One might readily be tempted to think, that Habakkuk wrote, while the pious king Josiah was still living; but since the first certain invasion of the Chaldaeans, of which our account speaks 2 Kings 24:1, falls within the reign of king Jehoiakim, somewhat between 608-604 b.c. we must abide by this date.”
Hitzig defines the dates still more sharply, according to that principle of principles, to which history with its facts must adapt itself unconditionally. “The prophet announces the arrival of the Chaldaeans in Judea, as something marvelous.” Well then, one would imagine, that it would follow from this, that at that time they had not yet come. But no! “Habakkuk,” says Hitzig, “introduces the Chaldaeans as a new phenomenon, as yet entirely unknown; he prophesied accordingly at their first arrival into Palestine. But this beyond question falls in the reign of Jehoiakim 2 Kings 24:2. In Jehoiakim‘s fourth year, i. e., 606, they had fought the battle at Carchemish; in 605 the Chaldaean army seems to have been on its march; the writing of Habakkuk is placed most correctly in the beginning of the year 604 a.d., accordingly, at the time, when the Chaldaeans were already marching with all speed straight on Jerusalem, and (as Hitzig infers from Habakkuk 1:9) after they had come down from the North along the coast, were now advancing from the West, when they, as Ewald too remarks (resting, like Maurer on Habakkuk 1:2-4), “already stood in the holy land, trampling everything under foot with irresistible might, and allowing their own right alone to count as right.”
Holding fast to that naturalist a priori, we go yet further. In Habakkuk 2:17, the judgment of God is threatened to the Chaldaean, on account of the violence practiced on Lebanon, and the destruction of its animals. Lebanon is, it is said, the holy land; the animals, its inhabitants: in Habakkuk 3:14, Habakkuk 3:17, the prophet sees the hostile hordes storming in: the devastation wrought through the war stands clearly before his eyes. This is not possible, unless the Chaldaean were at that time already established in Judaea. However, then, c. i. was written before their invasion, yet c. ii., iii. must have been written after it. “Wherefore,” says Maurer, “since it is evident from Jeremiah 46:2; Jeremiah 36:9, that the Chaldaeans came in the year b.c. 605, in the 9th month of the 5th year of the reign of Jehoiakim, it follows that c. i. was written at that very time, but c. ii. iii. at the beginning of 604 b.c., the 6th of Jehoiakim.”
“Turn we away from this cheap pseudo-criticism, with its ready-made results, which sacrifices all sense for historical truth to a prejudice, which it seems to have vowed not to allow to be shaken by anything. It seeks at any cost to disburden itself of any prophecy in Scripture, which can only be explained through supernatural agency; and yet it attains its end, neither elsewhere nor in our prophet. Habakkuk 1:5 ff plainly relate to the future, but the detailed description of the Chaldaeans points at something which has not yet taken place, at something hitherto unknown, and the terror of the prophet in announcing their coming, Habakkuk 1:12 ff, recurs also Habakkuk 3:1, Habakkuk 3:16-17; and so, I think, that the time of Habakkuk‘s activity may be p aced very soon after the battle of Carchemish, in the first half of the reign of Jehoiakim, and so his prophecy as contemporary with Habakkuk 1:5. ff clearly points to its beginning, the reign of Jehoiakim. Even Psalm 44:14,
(2) that a word, slightly varied in pronunciation from a common Hebrew word occurs only in Nahum, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, and Malachi, once in each, when that word is the basis of the name of the river Pishon, mentioned in Genesis, and Stahelin himself places Nahum in the reign of Hezekiah; or,
(3) that no prophet before Jeremiah speaks of the image of the” cup of destiny,” whereas the portion given by God for good (David, Psalm 11:6; Asaph, Psalm 75:8) or for ill (David. Psalm 16:5; Psalm 23:5), occurs under that same image in Psalms of David and Asaph; and if the question is to be begged as to the date of Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22, the corresponding image of “drinking wine, of reeling,” occurs in a Psalm of David (Psalm 60:5 (Psalm 60:3 in English)) and being drunk, but not with wine” is imagery of an earlier chapter in Isaiah; Isaiah 29:9, the image occurs fully in Obadiah Obadiah 1:16.
Such criticism is altogether childish. No one would tolerate it, except that it is adduced to support a popular and foregone conclusion. It would be laughed to scorn, were it used by believers in revelation. In the small remains of the Hebrew Scriptures and language, an induction, if it is to be of any value, must be very distinct. The largeness of Greek literature enables critics to single out Homeric, Herodotean, Eschylean, Pindaric words. In Hebrew we meet with hapax legomena (unique occurrences) in perhaps every prophet, in many Psalms; but it requires far more than the occurrence of the word in one single place, to furnish any even probable inference, that it was framed by the Prophet or Psalmist himself. Still less can it be inferred safely that because, in the scanty remains of Hebrew, a word does not occur before, for example, a certain historical book, it did not exist before the date of that book.
Rather the occurrence of any word in language so simple as that of the historical books, is an evidence that it did exist and was in common use at the time. Poets and orators coin words, in order to give full expression for their thoughts. The characteristic of the sacred historians, both of the Old and New Testament, is to relate the facts in most absolute simplicity. It would be a singular “history of the Hebrew language,” which should lay down as a principle, that all those are later words, which do not happen to occur before the books of Kings, Habakkuk, or any other prophet, whom this criticism is pleased to rank among the later books. What are we to do with Habakkuk‘s own hapax legomena? Granted, that he framed some of them, yet it is impossible that he framed them all. As specimens of the results of such a critical principle, that words, occurring for the first time in any book, are characteristic of the date of that word, let us only take roots beginning with “s.”
Had then the Hebrew no name for “nails” (as distinct from hooks, pegs,) as Ecclesiastes and 1 Kings 18:21. As “branches,” first occurs in Isaiah, Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 27:10; Isaiah 10:33; Ezekiel 31:5-6, Ezekiel 31:8) Seed shed, which sprang up in the second year, was known in the Pentateuch but that of the third year would, on that hypothesis, remain unknown until Hezekiah; nor did the Hebrews express to “drag along the ground,” until Hushai, and, after him, Jeremiah. They had no name for winter, as distinct from autumn, until the Canticles Genesis 26:15, Genesis 26:18. Abraham‘s wells, it might have been said that Hebrew had no word for this act, until the time of Jehoshaphat.
Or as to the criticism itself, קלס qâlas is to be a later word, because, except in that Psalm of the sons of Korah, it occurs first in the history of Elisha 2 Kings 2:23. Perhaps it is so rare (and this may illustrate the history of Elisha) because, as used, it seems to have been one of the strongest words in the language for “derision;” at least the verb is used in an intensive form only, and always of strong derision. But then, did the old Hebrews never use derision? Happy exception for one nation, if they never used it wrongly or had no occasion to use it rightly! Yet even though (by a rare exception) Ewald allows the second Psalm to be David‘s (Job, however, being placed about the 7th century b.c.) the evidence for לעג lâ‛ag as strong a word, would be of the time of David. “Scorning” “scoffing,” (unless Psalm 1:1-6 is allowed to be David‘s) did not begin until Soloman‘s time “Mocking” was yet later As belongs to a rude people, insult was only shown in acts, of which התעלל is used and from those simple times of the Patriarchs, they had no stronger word than “to laugh at.” For this is the only word used in the Pentateuch
But to what end all this? To prove that Habakkuk had no superhuman knowledge of what he foretold? Prophecy occupies, as I said, a subordinate place in Habakkuk. He renews the “burden” of former prophets, both upon his own people and upon the Chaldaeans; but he does not speak even so definitely as they. His office is rather to enforce the connection of sin and punishment: he presupposes the details, which they had declared. Apart from those chapters, which pseudo-criticism denies to Isaiah (Isaiah 39:6-7, Micah had declared not only the complete desolation of Jerusalem Micah 3:12, but that the people should be Micah 4:10 “carried to Babylon, and there delivered, there redeemed from the hands of the enemy.”
In the 13th year of Josiah, 628 b.c., and so, three years before the fall of Nineveh, while Babylon was still dependent on Nineveh and governed by a viceroy, and while Nabopolassar was still in the service of the king of Nineveh, Jeremiah foretold, that Jeremiah 1:14-16 “evil should break forth from the North upon all the inhabitants of the land, and all the families of the kingdoms of the North shall come and set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem and against all the walls thereof round about and against all the cities of Judah,” to execute the judgments of God against them for their wickedness. This was his dirge over his country for 23 years (Jeremiah 25:3, see also Jeremiah 5:15-17; Jeremiah 6:1, Jeremiah 6:22-25; Jeremiah 10:22. Also in the collection of all his prophecies from the time of Josiah, which God commanded him to make in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah 36:2, Jeremiah 36:29, he provides them also with a saving against idolatry (in Chaldee) for their use in their captivity in Chaldaea. Jeremiah 10:11) ere yet there was a token of its fulfillment.
Babylon had succeeded to Nineveh in the West and Southwest, and Judah had fallen to the share of Babylon; but the relation of Josiah to Nabopolassar was of a tributary sovereign, which rebellion only could disturb. The greater part of Nabopolassar‘s 21 year‘s reign are almost a blank. Chastisement had come, but from the South, not from the North. Eighteen years had passed away, and Josiah had fallen, in resisting Pharaoh-Necho in discharge of his fealty to the king of Babylon. Pharaoh-Necho had taken away one king of Judah, Jehoahaz, the people‘s choice, whose continued fealty to Babylon represents their minds, and had set up another, Jehoiakim. For three years Judah‘s new allegiance was alloweth to continue. Who, but God, could tell the issue of the conflict of those two great armies at Carchemish? Egypt with her allies, the Ethiopians, Phut and Lud, were come, rising up like a flood Jeremiah 46:8-9, covering the earth with her armies, as her rivers, when swollen, made her own land one sea.
Necho had apparently in his alliance all the kings of the countries West of the Euphrates: for to them all, in connection with Egypt and subordinate to her, does Jeremiah at that moment give to drink the cup of the wrath of God; to Jeremiah 25:19-24. Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants and his princes and all his people, and all the mingled people (his auxiliaries) and all the kings of the land of Uz, and all the kings of the land of the Philistines and Ashkelon and Azzah and Ekron and the remnant of Ashdod; Edom and Moab and the children of Ammon; and all the kings of Tyrus, and all the kings of Zidon and the kings of the isle beyond the sea (probably Caphtor Jeremiah 47:4, or Crete, or Cyprus) Dedan and Tema and Buz, and those whose hair is shorn (Arabians) and all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the desert, and all the kings of Zimri. It was a mighty gathering.
All the kings of Elam, all the kings of the Medes, all the kings of the North far and near, all was hostile to Babylon; for all were to drink of the cup beforehand, at the hands of the king of Babylon, and then the king of Sheshach (Babylon) was to drink after them. Necho was one of the most enterprising monarchs. Nabopolassar had shown no signs of enterprise. Nebuchadnezzar, the first and last conqueror of the Babylonian empire, though the alliance with Media and his father‘s empire had been cemented by his marriage, had, as far as we know, remained inactive during 20 years of his father‘s life. He was as yet untried. So little did he himself feel secure as to his inheritance of the throne, even after his success at the head of his father‘s army, that his rapid march across the desert, with light troops, to secure it, and its preservation for him by the chief priest, are recorded in a very concise history.
Neither Egypt nor Jehoiakim foresaw the issue. Defeat taught neither. Two voices only gave, in God‘s name, one unheeded warning. Pharaoh Hophra, the Apries of Herodotus, succeeded Pharaoh Necho in his self-confidence, his aggressions, his defeat. “I am against time,” God says Ezekiel 29:3, “Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own and I have made it for myself.” “It is said,” relates Herodotus (Herodotus ii. 16), “that Apries believed that there was not a god which could east him down from his eminence, so firmly did he think that he had established himself in his kingdom.”
For a time, Nebuchadnezzar must have been hindered by Eastern wars, since, on Jehoiakim‘s rebellion and perjury, he sent only bands of the Chaldees, with bands of tributary nations, the Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites, against him 2 Kings 24:2. But not in his time only, even after the captivity under his son Jehoiachin and his men of might 2 Kings 24:14-16, the conviction that Nebuchadnezzar could be resisted, still remained in the time of Zedekiah both in Egypt and Judah. Judah would have continued to hold under Babylonia that same position toward Egypt which it did under Persia, only with subordinate kings instead of governors. Apart from God‘s general promise of averting evil on repentance, Jeremiah, too, expressly tells Israel Jeremiah 4:1, “If thou wilt put away thine abominations out of My sight, thou shalt not remove;” (Jeremiah 7:7, add Jeremiah 17:25-26; Jeremiah 22:2-5), “Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, forever and ever.”
And “in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim,” Jeremiah 26:1, (Jeremiah 26:12, add Jeremiah 26:2-3), “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words which ye have heard. Therefore, now amend your ways and your doings and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will repent Him of the evil that He hath pronounced against you.” Still later, to Zedekiah Jeremiah 27:11, “The nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, “them will I let remain still in their own land, saith the Lord; and they shall till it and dwell therein” Jeremiah 35:15. “I have sent unto you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to year fathers.” Even on the very verge of the capture of Jerusalem, Jeremiah promised to Zedekiah Jeremiah 38:17, “If thou wilt go forth to the king of Babylon‘s princes; - this city shall not be burned with fire.”
Pharaoh Hophra was still strong enough to raise the siege of Jerusalem, when invested by the Chaldaean army Jeremiah 37:5. Jeremiah had the king, his princes, his prophets, all the people of the land against him, because he prophesied that Jerusalem should be burned with fire, that those already taken captives should not return, until the whole had been carried away, and the seventy yearn of captivity were accomplished Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10. The warning and the promise of Jeremiah‘s inaugural vision had its accomplishment (Jeremiah 1:18-19, renewed Jeremiah 15:20). “I have made thee a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the king of Judah, against the princes thereof and against the people ‹of the land; and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.” Had it been matter of human foresight, how was it, that all nations, all their politicians, all their wise men, all their prophets, all Judah, kings, priests, princes, people, were blinded (as in Him of Whom Jeremiah was a shadow,) and Jeremiah alone saw? “Vaticinia post eventum” are, in one sense, easy; namely, to imagine, after an event has taken place, that one could have foreseen it.
And yet who, after the retreat to Corunna, could have foreseen the victories of the Peninsular war? Or, when that tide of 647,000 men was roiling on toward Russia, who could imagine that only a small fraction of those hosts should return, that they should capture Moscow, but find it a tomb; and hunger and cold, reaching at last to 36 degrees below Zero, should destroy more than the sword? “What was the principal adversary of this tremendous power? By whom was it checked and resisted and put down? By none and by nothing but the direct and manifest interposition of God.”
The distinctness and perseverance of the prophecy are the more remarkable, because the whole of the greatness of the Chaldaean empire was that of one man. Assyria, in this one case, overreached itself in its policy of transporting conquered populations. It had, probably to check the rebellions of Babylon, settled there a wild horde, which it hoped would neither assimilate with its people, nor itself rebel. Isaiah relates the fact in simple words Isaiah 23:13. Behold the land of the Chaldaeans; this people was not; the Assyrian founded, not that it should cease to be, it for them that dwelt in the wilderness. This does not seem to me necessarily to imply, that the wild people, for whom Assyria founded it, were Chaldaeans or Kurds, whom the king of Assyria had brought from their Northern dwellings in the Carduchaean mountains near Armenia, where Sennacherib conquered.
Isaiah simply uses the name, the land of the Chaldaeans, as does Jeremiah (Jeremiah 24:5; Jeremiah 50:8, Jeremiah 50:25; Jeremiah 51:4; and, united with the name Babylon, Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 50:1, Jeremiah 50:45; Ezekiel 12:13, as Isaiah does Chasdim alone, Isaiah 48:14, Isaiah 48:20) after him, as the name of Babylonia; the ward Babylonia, had it existed, might have been substituted for it. Of this, he says, that it was not, i. e., was of no account but that Assur founded it for wild tribes, whom he placed there. Whence he brought those tribes, Isaiah does not say. Aeschylus (although indeed in later times) as well as Isaiah and Jeremiah, speak of the population of Babylon, as mingled of various nations; and the language is too large to be confined simply to its merchant-settlers. In Aeschylus “the all-mingled crowd,” which “it sends out in long array,” are its military contingents. it is its whole population, of which Isaiah and Jeremiah say, it will flee, each to his own land Isaiah 13:14 “It (Babylon) shall be as a chased roe, and as a sheep which no man gathereth; they shall, every man, turn to his own people, and flee every man to his own land. For fear of the oppressing sword they shall turn every one to his people: Jeremiah 50:16. And they shall flee, every one to his own land.”
Thus, Babylonia received that solid accession of strength which ultimately made it a powerful people, 60 years before the beginning of the reign of Josiah; its ancient and new elements would take some time to blend: they did not assume importance until the capture of Nineveh; nor had Judah any reason to dread anything from them, until itself rebelled, early in the reign of Jehoiakim. But 18 years before the death of Josiah, while Judah was a trusted and faithful tributary kingdom, Jeremiah foretold that evil should come upon them from the North, i. e., as he himself explains it, from the Chaldees.
Even then if Habakkuk were brought down to be a contemporary of Jeremiah, still in the 13th year of Josiah, there was nothing to fear. Judah was not in the condition of an outlying country, which Babylonian ambition might desire to reduce into dependence on itself. It was already part of the Babylonian empire, having passed into it, in the partition with Assyria, and hall no more to fear from it, than any of the conquered nations of Europe have now from those who have annexed them, unless they rebel. God alone knew the new ambition of the kings of the smitten and subdued Egypt, their momentary success, Josiah‘s death, Judah‘s relapse into the old temptation of trusting in Egyypt - all, condilions of the fulfillment of Habakkuk‘s and Jeremiah‘s prophecies. Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Zidon, sent embassadors to Zedekiah, to concert measures of resistance against Nebachadnezzar; Jeremiah 27:3, they were encouraged by their Jeremiah 27:9, diviners, dreamers, enchanters, sorcerers, which spoke to them, ye shall not serve the king of Babylon. One alone told them that resistance would but bring upon them destruction, that submission was their only safety; there was prophecy against prophecy, (Jeremiah 5:12-14; Jeremiah 14:14-16; Jeremiah 23:16-17, Jeremiah 23:21, Jeremiah 23:25-27, Jeremiah 23:30 ff; Jeremiah 27:14-18; 28), among these nations, in Jerusalem, in Babylon Jeremiah 29:8-9, Jeremiah 29:15, Jeremiah 29:21, Jeremiah 29:24; the recent knowledge of the political aspect of Babylon deterred not the false prophets there; all, with one voice, declared the breaking the yoke of the king of Babylon: Jeremiah only saw, that they were framing for themselves Jeremiah 28:13-14 yokes of iron. Had Jehoiakim or Zedekiah, their nobles, and their people possessed that human foresight which that pseudo-critical school holds to be so easy, Judah had never gone into captivity to Babylon. But He Who fashioneth the heart of man knoweth alone the issue of the working of those hearts, which He overrules.
From the necessity of its case, the pseudo-critical school lowers down the words, in which Habakkuk declares the marvelousness of the event which he foretells, and the unbelief of his people. “Look well,” he bids them, “marvel ye, marvel on; for I will work a work in your days which ye will not believe, when it shall be told you.” It is “something which had not hitherto been, something hitherto unknown,” says Stahelin. Yet things hitherto unknown, are not therefore incredible. “It is clear from the contents,” says Bleek “that the Chaldees had at that time already extended to the West their expeditions of conquest and destruction, and on the other side, that this had only lately begun and that they were not yet come to Judah and Jerusalem, so that here they were hitherto little known.” “The appearance of the Chaldees as world-conquerors was, in Judah, then a quite new phenomenon,” says Ewald. “The description of the Chaldees altogether is of such sort, that they appear as a people still little known to the Jews,” says Knobel. “That which is incredible for the people consists therein, that God employs just the Chaldees, such as they are described in what follows, for the unexpected chastisement of Israel,” says even Umbreit.
What was there incredible, that, when the king of Jerusalem had revolted from Babylon, and had sided with Egypt, its chief enemy, the Chaldaeans, should come against it? As soon might it be said to be incredible that France should invade Prussia, when its hundred thousands were on their march toward the Rhine. During the reign of Manasseh it was incredible enough, that any peril should impend from Babylon; for Babylon was still subordinate to Assyria: in the early years of Josiah it was still incredible, for his 31 years were years of peace, until Pharaoh Necho disputed the cis-Euphratensian countries with Babylon. When the then East and West came to Carehemish, to decide whether the empire should be, with the East or with the West, nothing was beyond human foresight but the result. Expectation lately hung suspended, perplexed between the forces of Europe. None, the most sagacious, could predict for a single day.
Men might surmise; God only could predict. For 23 years Jeremiah foretold, that the evil would come from the North, not from the South. The powers were well-balanced. Take Habakkuk‘s prophecy as a whole - not that the Chaldaeans should invade Judaea (which in Jehoiakim‘s time was already certain) but that Egypt should be a vain help, and that the Chaldaeans should mesh its people like the fishes of the sea, yet they should still have to disgorge them, because God‘s judgment would come upon them also. This too were incredible. Incredible it was to the kings, the wise, the politicians, the political prophets of Judaea, that Jerusalem itself should be taken. Incredible it was, and there was much human reason for the incredulity. Egypt and Assyria had been matched during centuries. Until the Sargonides, Egypt had, during centuries, the unbroken advantage. But the Sargonides had passed away.
Yet Chaldaea had not, alone, prevailed against Assyria. Why should the yet untried Babylonian be so certain of success, when the whole West of the Euphrates was banded together against him, and fought within their own ground? The kings of Elam add the kings of the Medes Jeremiah 25:25 were now, as under Cyrus, enemies of Babylon. Babylon had enemies before and behind. But God had raised up Nebuchadnezzar to be the hammer of the whole earth Jeremiah 50:23 and had given those cis-Euphratensian lands which leagued against him into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, God says Jeremiah 27:6-7, and all nations shall serve him and his son and his son‘s son, until the very time of his land come; and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. Whence this combination of almost superhuman but short-lived might, this certainty of wide sway down to the third generation, this certainty of its cessation afterward?
There was no time for decay. Alexander‘s empire was yet more short-lived, but it was divided among his successors. Alexander had, by his genius, founded his own empire, which the able generals, whom he had trained, divided among themselves. In the Chaldaean empire, we have an enterprising conspirator, who seizes an occasion, but does little beside which is recorded, nothing alone, nothing, beside that first grasp at power, for himself. He appears only as the ally of Media: (Herodotus i. 74) then a son, a world-wide conqueror, with a genius for consolidating the empire which he inherited, forming an impregnable city, which should also be a province, filling his empire with fortresses, but leaving none after him to maintain what he had so consolidated. By whom could this be foreknown save by Him, with Whom alone it is, to root out and to pull down and to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant? Jeremiah 1:10)
It has been common to praise the outside of Habakkuk‘s prophecy, the purity of his language, the sublimity of his imagery. Certainly it is, humanly speaking, magnicent: his measured cadence is impressive in its simplicity. He too has words and forms, which are unique to him among the remains of Hebrew. But his eminence is rather the condensed thought, expressed often in the simplest words; as when, having carried on the tide of victory of the Chaldaean to its height, everything human subdued before him, all resistance derided, he gathers up his fall and its cause in those eight words Habakkuk 1:11, “Then sweeps-he-by,
the Second Week after Epiphany