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There is no doubt but that the Prophet dictated this form of prayer for his people, before they were led into exile, that they might always exercise themselves in the study of religion. We indeed know that God cannot be rightly and from the heart worshipped but in faith. Hence, in order to confine the dispersed Israelites within due limits, so that they might not fall away from true religion, the Prophet here sets before them the materials of faith, and stimulates them to prayer: and we know, that our faith cannot be supported in a better way than by the exercise of prayer.
Let us then bear in mind, that the way of fostering true religion, prescribed here to the miserable Israelites while dispersed in their exile, was to look up to God daily, that they might strengthen their faith; for they could not have otherwise continued in their obedience to God. They would, indeed, have wholly fallen away into the superstitions of the Gentiles, had not the memory of the covenant, which the Lord had made with them, remained firm in their hearts: and we shall presently see that the Prophet lays much stress upon this circumstance.
He calls it his own prayer, (48) not because he used it himself privately, or composed it for himself, but that the prayer might have some authority among the people; for they knew that a form of prayer dictated for them by the mouth of a Prophet, was the same as though the Spirit itself was to show them how they were to pray to God. The name, then, of Habakkuk is added to it, not because he used it himself, but that the people might be more encouraged to pray, when they knew that the Holy Spirit, through the Prophet, had become their guide and teacher.
There is some difficulty connected with the word שגינות, sheginut. The verb שגג, shegag, or שגה, shege, means, to act inconsiderately; and from שגה, shege, is derived שגיון, shegiun. Many render it, ignorance; some, delight. Some think it to be the beginning of a song; others suppose it to be a common melody; and others, a musical instrument. Thus interpreters differ. In the seventh Psalm David, no doubt, calls either a song or some musical instrument by the word שגיון, shegiun. Yet some think that David bears testimony there to his own innocency; and that, as he was not conscious of having done wrong, his own innocency is alone signified by the title: but this is a strained view. The word is taken in this place, almost by common consent, for ignorances: and we know that the Hebrews denominate by ignorances all errors or falls which are not grievous, and such things as happen through inadvertence; and by this word they do not extenuate their faults, but acknowledge themselves to be inconsiderate when they offend. Then שגיון, shegiun, is no excusable ignorance, which men lay hold on as a pretext; but an error of folly and presumptions, when men are not sufficiently attentive to the word of God. But perhaps the word שגינות, sheginut, being here in the plural number, ought to be taken for musical instruments. Yet as I would not willingly depart from a received opinion, and as there is no necessity in this case to constrain us to depart from it, let us follow what had been already said,—that the Prophet dictates here for his people a form of prayer for ignorances, that is, that they could not otherwise hope for God’s forgiveness than by seeking his favor. (49) And how can we be reconciled to God, except by his not imputing to us our sins?
But the Prophet, by asking for the pardons of ignorances, does not omit more grievous sins; but intimates that though their conscience does not reprove men, they are yet not on that account innocent and without guilt; for they often inconsiderately fall, and their faults are not to be excused for inadvertence. It is, then, the same thing as though the Prophet reminded his own people, that there was no remedy for them in adversity but by fleeing to God, and fleeing as suppliants, in order to solicit his forgiveness; and that they were not only to acknowledge their more grievous sins, but also to confess that they were in many respects guilty; for they might have fallen through error a thousand times, as we are inconsiderate almost through the whole course of our life. We now, then, perceive what this word means, and why the Prophet spoke rather of ignorances than of other sins. But I shall not proceed farther now, as there is some other business.
(48) The more correct rendering here would be, “A Prayer (or rather, An Intercession) by Habakkuk the Prophet;” that is, It was a prayer composed by him. The preposition [ ל ] before Habakkuk, as often before David in the Psalms, would be better rendered in this way, than by “of;” for the meaning is, not that it was his prayer, that is, one offered up by him, but that it was composed by him. “A Psalm of David,” ought to be, “A Psalm by David.”— Ed.
(49) This explanation, adopted by Calvin, is derived originally from Aquila and Symmachus, who rendered the phrase, ἐπι ἀγοηματων, —respecting oversights or errors: and they have been followed by Jerome, Vulgate, etc. The prior version of the Septuagint is, μετ ᾿ ὠδδης, —with an ode that this prayer is composed in metre, is evident from the word, “Selah,” and from the conclusion of the chapter. The most probable meaning of the word is what Drusius has suggested, and adopted by Grotius, Marckius, and Henderson, and that is, that it refers to a peculiar metre, a kind of composition, which from its irregularity is called erratica cantio , an erratic verse. “The prayer of Habakkuk,” says Drusius, “was to be sung according to the odes which they called Sigionoth. ” To the same purpose is what Grotius says, that is, it is “a song according to the notes of an ancient ode which began with this word.” It is derived from [ שגה ], to go astray, to wander, that is, in this instance, from the regular metre of an ode. It is an erratic ode, that is, one containing varieties. It may be thus paraphrastically expressed, “According to the notes of the irregular ode;” or, as it is in the margin of our Bibles, “According to variable songs or tunes.”— Ed.
The Prophet says here, in the name of the whole people, that he was terrified by the voice of God, for so I understand the word, though in many places it means report, as some also explain it in this place. But as the preaching of the Gospel is called in Isaiah 53:1, שמעה, shemoe, report, it seems to me more suitable to the present passage to render it the voice of God; for the general sentiment, that the faithful were terrified at the report of God, would be frigid. It ought rather to be applied to the Prophecies which have been already explained: and doubtless Habakkuk did not intend here to speak only in general of God’s power; but, as we have seen in the last lecture, he humbly confesses the sins of the people, and then prays for forgiveness. It is then not to be doubted but that he says here, that he was terrified by the voice of God, that is, when he heard him threatening punishment so grievous. He then adds, Revive thy work in the middle of the years, and make it known. At last, by way of anticipation, he subjoins, that God would remember his mercy, though justly offended by the sins of the people.
But by saying, that he feared the voice of God, he makes a confession, or gives an evidence of repentance; for we cannot from the heart seek pardon, unless we be first made humble. When a sinner is not displeased with himself, and confesses not his guilt, he is not deserving of mercy. We then see why the Prophet speaks here of fear; and that is, that he might thus obtain for himself and for others the favor of God; for as soon as a sinner willingly condemns himself, and does not do this formally, but seriously from the heart, he is already reconciled to God; for God bids us in this way to anticipate his judgement. This is one thing. But if it be asked, for what purpose the Prophet heard God’s voice; the obvious answer is,—that as it is not the private prayer of one person, but of the whole Church, he prescribes here to the faithful the way by which they were to obtain favor from God, and turn him to mercy; and that is, by dreading his threatening and by acknowledging that whatever God threatened by his Prophets was near at hand.
Then follows the second clause, Jehovah! in the middle of the years revive thy work. By the work of God he means the condition of his people or of the Church. For though God is the creator of heaven and earth, he would yet have his own Church to be acknowledged to be, as it were, his peculiar workmanship, and a special monument of his power, wisdom, justice, and goodness. Hence, by way of eminence, he calls here the condition of the elect people the work of God; for the seed of Abraham was not only a part of the human race, but was the holy and peculiar possession of God. Since, then, the Israelites were set apart by the Lord, they are rightly called his work; as we read in another place,“
The work of thine hands thou wilt not despise,” Psalms 138:8.
And God often says, “This is my planting,” “This is the work of my hands,” when he speaks of his Church.
By the middle of the years, he means the middle course, as it were, of the people’s life. For from the time when God chose the race of Abraham to the coming of Christ, was the whole course, as it were, of their life, when we compare the people to a man; for the fullness of their age was at the coming of Christ. If, then, that people had been destroyed, it would have been the same as though death were to snatch away a person in the flower of his age. Hence the Prophet prays God not to take away the life of his people in the middle of their course; for Christ having not come, the people had not attained maturity, nor arrived at manhood. In the middle, then, of the years thy work revive; that is, “Though we seem destined to death, yet restore us.” Make it known, he says, in the middle of the years; that is, “Show it to be in reality thy work.” (51)
We now apprehend the real meaning of the Prophet. After having confessed that the Israelites justly trembled at God’s voice, as they saw themselves deservedly given up to perdition, he then appeals to the mercy of God, and prays God to revive his own work. He brings forward here nothing but the favor of adoption: thus he confesses that there was no reason why God should forgive his people, except that he had been pleased freely to adopt them, and to choose them as his peculiar people; for on this account it is that God is wont to show his favor towards us even to the last. as, then, this people had been once chosen by God, the Prophet records this adoption and prays God to continue and fulfill to the end what he had begun. With regard to the half course of life, the comparison ought to be observed; for we see that the race of Abraham was not chosen for a short time, but until Christ the Redeemer was manifested. Now we have this in common with the ancient people, that God adopts us, that he may at length bring us into the inheritance of eternal life. Until, then, the work of our salvation is completed, we are, as it were, running our course. We may therefore adopt this form of prayer, which is prescribed for us by the Holy Spirit,—that God would not forsake his own work; in the middle of our course.
What he now subjoins— in wrath remember mercy, is intended to anticipate an objection; for this thought might have occurred to the faithful—“there is no ground for us to hope pardon from God, whom we have so grievously provoked, nor is there any reason for us to rely any more on the covenant which we have so perfidiously violated.” The Prophet meets this objection, and he flees to the gracious favor of God, however much he perceived that the people would have to suffer the just punishment of their sins, such as they deserved. He then confesses that God was justly angry with his people, and yet that the hope of salvation was not on that account closed up, for the Lord had promised to be propitious. Since God then is not inexorable towards his people—nay, while he chastises them he ceases not to be a father; hence the Prophet connects here the mercy of God with his wrath.
We have elsewhere said that the word wrath is not to be taken according to its strict sense, when the faithful or the elect are spoken of; for God does not chastise them because he hates them; nay, on the contrary, he thereby manifests the care he has for their salvations. Hence the scourges by which God chastises his children are testimonies of his love. But the Scripture represents the judgement with which God visits his people as wrath, not towards their persons but towards their sins. Though then God shows love to his chosen, yet he testifies when he punishes their sins that iniquity is hated by him. When God then comes forth as it were as a judge, and shows that sins displease him, he is said to be angry with the faithful; and there is also in this a reference to the perceptions of men; for we cannot, when God chastises us, do otherwise than feel the accusations of our own conscience. Hence then is this hatred; for when our conscience condemns us we must necessarily acknowledge God to be angry with us, that is with respect to us. When therefore we provoke God’s wrath by our sins we feel him to be angry with us; but yet the Prophet collects together things which seem wholly contrary—even that God would remember mercy in wrath; that is, that he would show himself displeased with them in such a way as to afford to the faithful at the same time some taste of his favor and mercy by finding him to be propitious to them.
We now then perceive how the Prophet had joined the last clause to the foregoing. Whenever, then, the judgement of the flesh would lead us to despair, let us ever set up against it this truth—that God is in such a way angry that he never forgets his mercy—that is, in his dealings with his elect. It follows—
(51) The view given of “the middle of the years,” is ingenious and striking; but the common interpretation is, that “the years” of calamity, allotted to the Jews, are meant. The Septuagint version of this verse is so extremely wide of the original, that none can account for the differences. There are no various readings of any moment; and the literal rendering of this verse, and of the former part of the following, I consider to be this,—
2. O Jehovah! I have heard thy report; I feared, O Jehovah! Thy work! in the midst of the years revive it; In the midst of the years make it known; In anger remember mercy:
3. May God from Teman come And the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah.
It is called “thy report,” as it was a report which came from God; the allusion is to the threatenings in chapter 1. “The report from thee,” would convey the sense. The third line is a prayer; and so are the following lines, though all the verbs are in the future tense, while that for “revive” is in the imperative mood. The third verse ought to end with the word “Selah.” What follows in the other part and in the subsequent verses, is a relation of what took place when God had formerly interfered in behalf of Israel; while here, and in the latter part of the preceding verse, the Prophet expresses a prayer to God in reference to his people, and borrows his language from the past interpositions of God.— Ed.
This verse interpreters explain in two ways. Some construe the verb in the future tense in the past time—“God went forth from Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran”; for a verb in the past tense follows. But others consider it to be in the optative mood—“May God come, or go forth, from Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran;” as though the Prophet prayed God to come as the defender of his people from mount Sinai, where the law was promulgated and the covenant ratified, which God had formerly made with Abraham and his posterity. I rather subscribe to their opinion who think that the manifestation of God, by which he had testified that he was the guardian of that people, is repeated by the Prophet. As, then, God had so made known his glory on mount Sinai, that it was evident that that nation was under his protection, so the Prophet, with the view of strengthening himself and others, records what was well known among the whole people—that is, that the law was given on mount Sinai, which was a testimony of singular favor; for God then by a new pledge testified, that the covenant formerly made with Abraham was firm and inviolable. The reason why Habakkuk does not mention mount Sinai, but Teman and Paran, seems to some to be this—because these mountains were nearer the Holy Land, though this view, I fear, will appear too refined; I therefore take this simple view—that instead of mentioning mount Sinai, he paraphrastically designates it by mount Paran and the desert of Teman. Some suppose these to be two mountains; but I know not whether Teman ought to be understood only as a mountain; it seems on the contrary to have been some large tract of country. It was a common thing among the Jews to add this name when they spoke of the south, as many nations were wont to give to winds the names of some neighboring places; so when the Jews wished to designate a wind from Africa, they called it Teman. “It is a Teman wind;” and so when they spoke of the south, they said Teman.
However this may be, it is certain that the desert of Teman was nigh to Sinai, and also that mount Paran was connected with that desert. As then they were places towards the south, and nigh to mount Sinai, where the law had been proclaimed, the Prophet records here, in order to strengthen the faith of the whole people, that God had not in vain gone forth once from Teman, and there appeared in his celestial power; for God then openly showed, that he took under his guardianship the children of Abraham, and that the covenant which he had formerly made with him was not vain or of no effect. Since, then, God had testified this in so remarkable and wonderful a manner, the Prophet brings forward here that history which tended especially to confirm the faith of the godly—God went forth once from Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran.
For it was not God’s will that the memory of that manifestation should be obliterated; but he had once appeared with glory so magnificent, that the people might feel assured that they would ever be safe, for they were protected by God’s hand, and that full of power, as the fathers had once known by manifest and visible evidences; and hence the Prophet represents God’s going forth from mount Paran as a continued act, as though he rendered himself visible chiefly from that place. Nor is this representation new; for we see, in many other places, a living picture, as it were, set before the eyes of the faithful, in order to strengthen them in their adversity, and to make them assured that they shall be safe through God’s presence. The Lord, indeed, did not daily fulminate from heaven, nor were there such visible indications of his presence as on mount Sinai; but it behaved the people to feel assured that he was the same God who had given to their fathers such clear evidence of his power, and that he is also at this time, and to the end of the world, endued with the same power, though it be not rendered visible.
We now then apprehend the design of the Prophet: God then came from Teman, and the holy one from mount Paran. We must also observe, that the minds of the godly were recalled to the spectacle on mount Sinai, when they were drawn away into exile, or when they were in the power of their enemies. They might indeed have then supposed, that they were wholly forsaken. Obliterated then must have been the memory of that history, had not this remedy been introduced. It is, therefore, the same as though the Prophet had said—“Though God now hides his power, and gives no evidence of his favor, yet think not that he formerly appeared in vain to your fathers as one clothed with so great a power, when the law was proclaimed on mount Sinai. It follows—
He confirms the declaration which I have explained that God, when he intended his presence to be made known to his people, gave evidences of his wonderful power, capable of awakening the minds of all. He then says, that the brightness was like light. By the word אור, aur, is doubtless meant the light, which diffuses itself through the whole world, and proceeds from the sun. Then he says, that the brightness which appeared on mount Sinai was equal to the light of the sun, capable of filling the whole world. He adds, that horns were to him from the hand. Some render it, splendor; but קרן, coren, properly means a horn, and קרנים, corenium, is here in the dual number: it is therefore more probable, that the Prophet ascribes horns to God, carried in both hands; and it more corresponds with what immediately follows, that “there was the hiding of his strength,” or that “there was his power hidden.” They who render the word, splendours, think that what had been said is repeated, that is, that the brightness was like light; but they are mistaken, for we may collect from the verse that two different things are expressed by the Prophet: he first speaks of the visible form of God; and then he adds his power, designating it metaphorically by horns, which is common in Scripture. Indeed this mode of speaking occurs often. He then says, that God came armed with power, when he gave the law to his people; for he bore horns in his hands, where his strength was hid. (53)
As to the word hiding, some indeed give this refined view, that God then put forth his strength, which was before hidden. But this is a very strained explanation. To me it seems evident, that the Prophet in the first place says, that God’s glory was conspicuous, capable of irradiating the whole world like the light of the sun; and he then adds, that this splendor was connected with power, for God carried horns in both his hands, where his strength was laid: and he says, that it was hid, because God did not intend to make known his power indiscriminately throughout the world, but peculiarly to his own people; as it is also said in Psalms 31:20, that“
the greatness of his goodness is laid up for the faithful alone, who fear and reverence him.”
As then it is said, that the goodness of God is laid up for the faithful, for they enjoy it as children and members of the household; so also the power of God is said to be laid up, because he testifies that he is armed with power to defend his Church, that he may render safe the children of Abraham, whom he has taken under his protection. It afterwards follows—
(53) That [ קרז ] means to irradiate or to shine, is clear from Exodus 34:29; “for shine did the skin of his face,” [ כי קרז עור פניי ]. Most critics consider that the noun here, though in this sense in no other instance, means rays, or beams of light; and this corresponds with the description given elsewhere of God’s appearance on mount Sinai. Drusius, Marckius, Newcome, and Henderson, render it “rays.” The line then would literally be —
Rays from his hand were to him.
or, to retain the English idiom.
He had rays from his hand.
To render the line, “Rays streamed from his hand,” is to give a paraphrase.
The objection of Calvin as to the next line, seems not valid; for the hiding of strength may refer to the hand, or to the place, Sinai, whether we render the previous word, rays or horns;—to the place, if we retain our present reading, [ עזה ], “of its strength;” but to the hand, if we adopt the reading of many copies, [ עזו ] “of his strength,” which is perhaps the most accordant with the passage.— Ed.
The Prophet repeats here, that God came armed to defend his people, when he went forth from Teman; for he connects with it here the deliverance of the people. He does not indeed speak only of the promulgation of the law, but encourages all the godly to confidence; for God, who had once redeemed their fathers from Egypt, remained ever like himself, and was endued with the same power.
And he says, that before God’s face walked the pestilence; this is to be referred to the Egyptians; and that ignited coal proceeded from his feet. Some render רשף, reshoph, exile; but its etymology requires it to be rendered burning or ignited coal, and there is no necessity to give it another meaning. (54)
The import of the whole is—that God had put to flight all the enemies of his people; for we know that the Egyptians were smitten with various plagues, and that the army of Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea. Hence, the Prophet says, that God had so appeared from Teman, that the pestilence went before him, and then the ignited coal; in short, that the pestilence and ignited coal were God’s officers, which were ready to perform his commands: as when a king or a judge, having attendants, commands them to put this man in prison, and to punish another in a different way; so the Prophet, giving us a representation of God, says, that all kinds of evils were ready to obey his orders, and to destroy his and their enemies. He does not then intend here to terrify the faithful in mentioning the pestilence and the ignited coal; but, on the contrary, to set before their eyes evidences of God’s power, by which he could deliver them from the hand of their enemies, as he had formerly delivered their fathers from Egypt. By God’s feet, he then means his going forth or his presence; for I do not approve of what some have said, that ignited coals followed, when pestilence had preceded; for both clauses are given in the same way. It follows—
(54) Most agree in the view given of this verse, only there is some shade of difference as to the word [ רשף ]; but though Calvin renders it carbo ignitus —ignited coals, yet in his exposition he seems to regard it with many others as a burning disease. In the six other instances in which the word occurs, it certainly has not this sense, except it be in Deuteronomy 32:24, which is doubtful. It signifies not a burning coal, but a glowing fire, burning or lightening. Compare Exodus 9:23, with Psalms 78:48; where it designates the fires or lightnings produced by thunder, which accompanied the hail. Lightning would be its most proper rendering here; for instead of referring this verse to the plagues in Egypt, it may be considered as a continuation of what is contained in the foregoing verse; and the Septuagint and Theodotion have rendered [ דבר ] in the preceding clause, not pestilence, but word —λογος, its most usual meaning. This makes the whole to comport to what we read of God’s appearance on mount Sinai. See Exodus 19:16; Deuteronomy 33:2. The version then would be this—
From before him proceeded the word ( i.e. the law;) And forth came lightning at his feet.
Most of the ideas in this, and in the two preceding verses, seem to be similar to those we find in Deuteronomy 33:2.— Ed.
He says that God possessed every power to subdue the earth to himself, and that he could at his will destroy it, yea, dissolve mountains as veil as nations. Some of the Jews understood this of the ark, which stood at that time in Gilead. They then suppose that the Prophet meant this in short—that when God chose a place for the ark of the covenant in Gilgal, that he determined then what he would do, and that he then in his secret counsel divided the land, so that each should have his portion by lot. This, it is true, was accomplished shortly after, for Joshua, as we know, divided it by lot between the tribes. But what the Jews affirm of the ark seems to me strained and frigid. Habakkuk, on the contrary, means by the word stand, that God was openly conspicuous, like him who assumes an erect posture, so that he is seen at a distance. In this sense we are to take the expression that God stood.
The measuring, of the earth is not to be confined to Judea, but is to be extended to the whole world. God, he says, has measured the earth. To measure the earth is what properly belongs to a sovereign king; and it is done that he may assign to each his portion. Except God, then, had a sovereign right over the earth and the whole world, Habakkuk would not have ascribed to him this office; and this we learn from the verse itself, for he immediately subjoins, that the nations, as it were, melted away, that the mountains were destroyed, that the hills were bowed down
We hence see that by earth we are not to understand Judea only, but the whole world; as though he had said, that when God appeared on mount Sinai, he made it fully evident that the earth was under his power and authority, so that he could determine whatever he pleased, and prescribe limits to all nations. For he does not speak of God here as having, like a surveyor, a measuring line; but he says, that he measured the earth as one capable even then of changing the boundaries of the whole world; nay, he intimates that it was he himself who had at first created the earth and assigned it to men. It is indeed true that the nations did not then melt away, nor were the mountains demolished, nor the hills bowed down; but the Prophet simply means, that God’s power then appeared, which was capable of shaking the whole world.
But he calls these the mountains of eternity and the hills ages, which had been from the beginning fixed on their own foundations. For if an earthquake happens on a plain, it seems less wonderful; and then if any of those mountains cleave, which are not so firmly fixed, it may be on account of some hollow places; for when the winds fill the caverns, they are forced to burst, and they cleave the mountains and the earth. But the Prophet relates an unusual thing, and wholly different from the ordinary course of nature—that the mountains of eternity, which had been from the beginning, and had remained without any change, were thus demolished and bowed down. In short, the Prophet intended by all means to raise up to confidence the minds of the godly, so that they should become fully persuaded that God’s power to deliver them would be the same as that which their fathers had formerly experienced; for there is no other support under adverse, and especially under despairing circumstances, than that the faithful should know that they are still under the protection of that God who has adopted them. This is the reason why the Prophet amplifies, in so striking a manner, on the subject of God’s power.
And hence also he subjoins, that the ways of ages are those of God. Some render the clause, “the ways of the world.” The word עולם, oulam, however, means properly an age, or perpetual time. The Prophet, I have no doubt, means by ways of ages, the wonderful means which God is wont to adopt for the defense of his Church; for we are ever wont to reduce God’s wonder to our own understanding, while it is his purpose to perfect, in a manner that is wonderful, the work of our salvation. Hence the Prophet bids the faithful here to raise upwards their thoughts, and to conceive something greater of God’s power than what they can naturally comprehend. If we take the ways of eternity, in this sense, then they are to be understood as in opposition to those means which are known and usual. They are his daily ways, when the sun rises and sets, when the spring succeeds the winter, when the earth produces fruit; though even these are so many miracles, yet they are his common ways. But God has ways of eternity that is he has means unknown to us by which he can deliver us from death, whenever it may please him.
But yet, if any prefer taking the ways of eternity as signifying the continued power of God, which has ever appeared from the beginning, the sense would be appropriate and not less useful: for it especially avails to confirm our faith, when we consider that God’s power has ever been the same from the creation of heaven and earth, that it has never been lessened or undergone any change. Since, then, God has successively manifested his power through all ages, we ought hence to learn that we have no reason to despair, though he may for a time conceal his hand; for he is not on that account deprived of his right. He ever retains the sovereignty of the world. We ought, then, to be attentive to the ways of ages, that is, to the demonstration of that power, which was manifested in the creation of the world, and still continues to be manifested. (55) It follows—
(55) This verse is explained in a very striking manner, but the version is not so strictly correct It may be thus rendered:—
6. He stood, and measured the earth; He looked, and agitated the earth; And burst themselves open did the perpetual mountains, Bend down did the hills of ages; The going of ages were his.“
The perpetual mountains” are literally “the mountains of perpetuity,” which had remained the same from the beginning. “The hills of ages” might be rendered the hills of antiquity or of old time, [ עולם ], an indefinite past time. “The goings of ages,” are God’s proceedings, that is, in his works, and may therefore be rendered “deeds;” and they are said to be deeds “of ages,” i.e., of old time, with reference probably to the creation of the world: for he who makes perennial mountains to burst, and perpetual hills to bend downwards, must be their first creator.— Ed.
The Prophet relates here, no doubt, whatever might bring comfort to the miserable Jews, as they thought themselves rejected and in a manner alienated from God. Hence the Prophet mentions here other deliverances, which were clear evidences of God’s constant favor towards his chosen people. He had hitherto spoken of their redemption, and he will presently return to the same subject: but he introduces here other histories; as though he had said, that it was not only at one time that God had testified how much he loved the race of Abraham, and how inviolable was the covenant he had made; but that he had given the same testimonies at various times: for as he had also defended his people against other enemies, the conclusion was obvious, that God’s hand was thus made manifest, that the children of Abraham might know that they were not deceived, when they were adopted by him.
Hence Habakkuk mentions the tents of Cushan as another evidence of God’s power in preserving his people, and the curtains of Midian; for we know how wonderful was the work, when the Jews were delivered by the hand of Gideon; and the same was the case with respect to the king of Chosen.
We now, then, understand the design of the Prophet: for as he knew that the time was near when the Jews might succumb to despair in their great adversities, he reminds them of the evidences of God’s favor and power, which had been given to their fathers, that they might entertain firm hope in time to come, and be fully persuaded that God would be their deliverer, as he had been formerly to their fathers.
The Prophet here applies the histories to which he has already referred, for the purpose of strengthening the hope of the faithful; so that they might know these to be so many proofs and pledges of God’s favor towards them, and that they might thus cheerfully look for his aid, and not succumb to temptation in their adversities. When he asks, was God angry with the rivers and the sea, he no doubt intended in this way to awaken the thoughts of the faithful, that they might consider the design of God in the works which he had already mentioned; for it would have been unreasonable that God should show his wrath against rivers and the sea; why should he be angry with lifeless elements? The Prophet then shows that God had another end in view when he dried the sea, when he stopped the course of Jordan, and when he gave other evidences of his power. Doubtless God did not regard the sea and the rivers; for that would have been unreasonable. It then follows that these changes were testimonies of God’s favor towards his Church: and hence the Prophet subjoins, that God rode on his horses, and that his chariots were for salvation to his people. (57) We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning, which interpreters have not understood, or at least have not explained.
We now, then, see why the Prophet puts these questions: and a question has much more force when it refers to what is in no way doubtful. What! can God be angry with rivers? Who can imagine God to be so unreasonable as to disturb the sea and to change the nature of things, when a certain order has been established by his own command? Why should he dry the sea, except he had something in view, even the deliverance of his Church? except he intended to save his people from extreme danger, by stretching forth his hand to the Israelites, when they thought themselves utterly lost? He therefore denies, that when God dried the Red Sea, and when he stopped the flowing of Jordan, he had put forth his power against the sea or against the river, as though he was angry with them. The design of God, says the Prophet, was quite another; for God rode on his horses, that is, he intended to show that all the elements were under his command, and that for the salvation of his people. That God, then, might be the redeemer of his Church, he constrained Jordan to turn back its course, he constrained the Red Sea to make a passage for his miserable captives, who would have otherwise been exposed to the slaughter of their enemies. There was indeed no hope of saving Israel, without a passage being suddenly opened to them through the Red Sea.
Hence all these miracles were designed to show that God had become the redeemer of his Church, and had put forth his power for the salvation of those whom he had taken under his protection: and it is easy from this fact to conclude, that the same help ought to be expected from God by posterity; for God was not induced by some sudden impulse to change the nature of things, but exhibited a proof of his favor: and his grace is perpetual, and flows in an even course, though not according to the apprehension of men; for it suffers some interruptions, because God exercises the faithful under the cross; yet his goodness never ceases. It hence follows that the faithful are to entertain hope; for God, when he pleases, and when he sees it expedient, will really show the same power which was formerly exhibited to the fathers. It now follows—
(57) The two first lines present a difficulty in their construction. The most literal is this rendering of Junius —
Did against rivers kindle, O Jehovah — Against rivers, thy wrath;
Our language will admit of a similar construction in another form, by inverting the order—
Did thy wrath against rivers, O Jehovah, Did it kindle against rivers?
Some connect the two last lines of the verse with the previous one, thus—
Was thine indignation against the sea, When thou didst ride on thy horses, On thy chariots of salvation?
But Calvin considers them rather as an answer to the previous questions, or as explanatory; and they may be thus rendered—
When thou didst ride on thy horses, Thy chariots were those of salvation.
It is observed by Henderson, that “there is no necessity for our understanding either the angels or thunder and lightning by ‘horses’ and ‘chariots.’ They are,” he adds, “merely figurative expressions, designed to carry out the metaphor adopted from military operations.” Or it may be, that the horses and chariots of the Israelites are here meant, as in the 11th verse, the arrows and spears of the people are spoken of as those of God.— Ed.
The Prophet explains the same thing more clearly in this verse—that the power of God was formerly manifested for no other reason but that the children of Abraham might be taught to expect from him a continued deliverance: for he says that the bow of God was made bare. By the bow, he means also the sword and other weapons; as though he had said, that God was then armed, as we have found declared before. God therefore was then furnished with weapons, and marched to the battle, having undertaken the cause of his chosen people, that he might defend them against the wicked. Since it was so, we hence see that these miracles were not to avail only for one period, but were intended perpetually to encourage the faithful to look ever for the aid of God, even in the midst of death; for he can find escapes, though they may not appear to us.
We now see the import of the text; but he emphatically adds, The oaths of the tribes; for hereby he more fully confirms that God had not then assisted the children of Abraham, so as to discard them afterwards; but that he had really proved how true he was in his promises; for by the oaths of (or to) the tribes he means the covenant that God had made not only with Abraham, but also with his posterity for ever. He puts oaths in the plural number, because God had not only once promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed, but had often repeated the same promise, in order that faith might be rendered more certain, inasmuch as we have need of more than one thing to confirm us. For we see how our infirmity always vacillates, unless God supplies us with many props. As, then, God had often confirmed his servant Abraham, the Prophet speaks here of his oaths: but then as to the substance, the oath of God is the same; which was, that he had taken the race of Abraham under his protection, and promised that they should be to him a peculiar people, and, especially, that he had united the people under one head; for except Christ had been introduced, that covenant of God would not have been ratified nor valid. As, then, God had once included every thing when he said to Abraham, “I am God Almighty, and I shall be a God to you and to your children;” it is certain that nothing was added when God afterwards confirmed the faith of Abraham: but yet the Prophet does not without reason use the plural number; it was done, that the faithful might recomb with less fear on God’s promise, seeing, that it had been so often and by so many words confirmed.
He calls them too the oaths to the tribes: for though God had spoken to Abraham and afterwards to Moses, yet the promise was deposited in the hands of Abraham, and of the patriarchs, and afterwards in those of Moses, that the people might understand that it belonged equally to them; for it would have been no great matter to promise what we read of to a few men only. But Abraham was as it were the depository; and it was a certain solemn stipulation made with his whole race. We hence see why the Prophet here mentions the tribes rather than Abraham, or the patriarchs or Moses. He had indeed a special regard to those of his own time, in order to confirm them, that they might not doubt but that God would extend to them also the same power. How so? Because God had formerly wrought in a wonderful manner for the deliverance of his people. Why? That he might prove himself to be true and faithful. In what respect? Because he had said, that he would be the protector of his people; and he did not adopt a few men only, but the whole race of Abraham. Since it was so, why should not his posterity hope for that which they knew was promised to their fathers? for the truth of God can never fail. Though many ages had passed away, the faith of his people ought to have remained certain, for God intended to show himself to be the same as he had been formerly known by their fathers.
He afterwards adds אמר, amer, which means a word or speech; but it is to be taken here for a fixed and an irrevocable word. The word, אמר, amer, he says; that is, as they say, the word and the deed: for when we say, that words are given, we often understand that those who liberally promise are false men, and that we are only trifled with and disappointed when we place confidence in them. But the term, word, is sometimes taken in a good sense. “This is the word,” we often say, when we intend to remove every doubt. We now then perceive what the Prophet meant by adding אמר, amer, the word. “O Lord, thou hast not given mere words to a people; but what has proceeded from thy mouth has been found to be true and valid. Such, therefore, is and faithfulness in thy promises, that we ought not to entertain the least doubt as to the event. As soon as thou givest to us any hope, we ought to feel assured of its accomplishment, as though it were not a word but the exhibition of the thing itself.” In short, by this term the Prophet commends the faithfulness of God, lest we should harbour doubts as to his promises. (58)
He then says, that by rivers had been cleft the earth. He refers, I doubt not, to the history we read in Numbers 14:0; for the Lord, when the people were nearly dead through thirst, drew forth water from the rock, and caused a river to flow wherever the people journeyed. As then he had cleft the earth to make a perpetual course for the stream, and thus supplied the people in dry places with abundance of water, the Prophet says here, that the earth had been cleft by rivers or streams. It was indeed but one river; but he amplifies, and justly so, that remarkable work of God. He afterwards adds—
(58) This clause has been variously explained: the interpretation here given has been mostly adopted. In the Barberinean manuscript the whole of this prayer is given in many respects different from the present received text of the Septuagint, and this clause is thus found in it —ἐχορτασας βολιδας της φαρετρας ἀυτου. It is evident that this idea falls in more with the preceding clause than any other; and the Hebrew will admit of a sense bordering on this with less alteration than any other that has been offered. No version has been given without supposing something to be understood. Newcome says, that sixteen MSS. read [ שבועת ]; by leaving out the [ ו ], it may be a verb in Kal in the past tense, as rendered above, and writers might have easily put down [ אמר ] for [ אזור ]. Then the line in Hebrew would be,
[ שבעת מטות אזור ]“
Thou hast filled with arrows the girdle.”
It is a description of one equipped for battle; his bow was made ready, and he had filled his girdle, that is, his military guide, with arrows; for this girdle the preceding Greek version introduced the quiver, in which arrows were commonly carried. The word [ מטות ], means rods or staves, that is, of arrows, as we may take it here. This is the most satisfactory solution of the difficulties connected with this line, of which there have been, as Henderson says, more than a hundred interpretations.
The last clause of the verse is thus rendered by Newcome, —
Thou didst cleave the streams of the land;
and by Henderson, —
Thou didst cleave the earth into rivers.
The words will not admit the first version; the genitive case in Hebrew is always by juxtaposition; here “streams” and “earth” are separated by the verb. The other version contains hardly a meaning. The most literal rendering is that given by Calvin, and it affords the best sense. The words will admit of the following, which is materially the same,—
By streams didst thou cleavest the earth.
The allusion evidently to the streams of that water which miraculously issued from the smitten rock, and followed the Israelites in the wilderness.— Ed.
Habakkuk proceeds with the history of the people’s redemption. We have said what his object was, even this that the people, though in an extreme state of calamity, might yet entertain hope of God’s favor; for he became not a Redeemer to the race of Abraham for one time, but that he might continue the same favor to them to the end.
He says that mountains had seen and grieved. Some explain this allegorically of kings, and say, that they grieved when envy preyed on them: but this view is too strained. The Prophet, I have no doubt, means simply, that the mountains obeyed God, so as to open a way for his people. At the same time, the verb חול, chul, signifies not only to grieve, but also to bring forth, and then to fall and to abide in the same place. We might then with no less propriety read thus— see thee did the mountains, and were still, or fell down; that is, they were subservient to thy command, and did not intercept the way of thy people. I think the real meaning of the Prophet to be, that God had formerly imprinted on all the elements evident marks of his paternal favor, so that the posterity of Abraham might ever confide in him as their deliverer in all their distresses: and even the context requires this meaning; for he subjoins -
The stream or the inundation of waters, etc. : and this second part cannot be explained allegorically. We then see, that the import of the words is—That God removed all obstacles, so that neither mountains, nor waters, nor sea, nor rivers, intercepted the passage of the people. He says now, that the inundation of waters had passed away. This applies both to Jordan and to the Red Sea; for God separated the Red Sea, so that the waters stood apart, contrary to the laws of nature, and the same thing happened to Jordan; for the flowing of the water was stayed, and a way was opened, so that the people passed over dryshod into the land of Canaan. Thus took place what is said by the Prophet, the stream of waters passed away. We indeed know that such is the abundance of waters in the sea and in the rivers, that they cannot be dried up: when therefore waters disappear, it is what is beyond the course of nature. The Prophet, therefore, records this miracle, that the faithful might know, that though the whole world were resisting, their salvation would still be certain; for the Lord can surmount whatever impediments there may be.
He then ascribes life to waters; for he says, that the abyss gave its voice, and also, that the deep lifted up its hands; or that the abyss with uplifted hands was ready to obey God. It is a striking personification; for though the abyss is void of intelligence, and it cannot speak, yet the Prophet says, that the abyss with its voice and uplifted hands testified its obedience, when God would have his people to pass through to the promised land. When anxious to testify our obedience, we do this both with our voice and in our gesture. When any one is willing to do what is commanded, he says, “Here I am,” or “I promise to do this.” As, then, servants respond to others, so the Prophet says, that a voice was uttered by the abyss. The abyss indeed uttered no voice; but the event itself surpassed all voices. Now when a whole people meet together, they raise their hands; for their consent cannot be understood except by the outstretching of the hands, and hence came the word hand-extending, χειροτονια. This similitude the Prophet now takes, and says, that the abyss raised up its hands; that is, shows its consent by this gesture. As when men declare by this sign that they will do what they are bidden; so also the abyss lifted up its hands. If we read, The deep raised up its hands, the sense will be the same. (59) Let us proceed -
(59) Most critics have overlooked the peculiar construction of this verse; but it presents a striking instant of the order in which the Prophets often arrange their ideas. There are two things referred to—the mountains and the waters—and the first verb regards both; the nominative case being anticipated, and the first of the two last lines refers to the waters, and the last to the mountains. This is the literal version,—
They saw thee, — in pain were the mountains, The flood of waters passed away, Utter did the deep its voice, The height its hands lifted up.
To construe [ רום ] adverbially, “on high,” does not so well comport with the characters of the Hebrew language; and it evidently here refers to the “mountains,” as the “deep” refers to the water.— Ed.
Here the Prophet refers to another history; for we know that when Joshua fought, and when the day was not long enough to slay the enemies, the day was prolonged according to his prayer, (Joshua 10:12.) He seems indeed to have authoritatively commanded the sun to stay its course: but there is no doubt, but that having been answered as to his prayer, when he expressed this, he commanded the sun, as he did, through the secret impulse of the Holy Spirit: and we know that the sun would not have stopped in its course, except the moon also was stayed. There must indeed have been the same action as to these two luminaries.
Hence Habakkuk says, that the sun and moon stood still in their habitation; that is, that the sun then rested as it were in its dwelling. When it was hastening in its course, it then stood still for the benefit of God’s people. The sun then and the moon stood, —How? At the light of thy arrows shall they walk. Some refer this to the pillar of fire, as though the Prophet had said, that the Israelites walked by that light, by which God guided them: but I doubt not but that this is said of the sun. The whole sentence is thus connected—that the sun and moon walked, not as from the beginning, but at the light of God’s arrows; that is, when instead of God’s command, which the sun had received from the beginning as its direction, the sun had God’s arrows, which guided it, retarded its course, or restrained the velocity which it had before. There is then an implied contrast between the progress of the sun which it had by nature to that day, and that new direction, when the sun was retained, that it might give place to the arrows of God, and to the sword and the spear; for by the arrows and the spear he means nothing else but the weapons of the elect people; for we know, that when that people fought under the protection of God, they were armed as it were from above. As then it is said of Gideon, “The sword of God and of Gideon;” so also in this place the Prophet calls whatever armor the people of Israel had, the arrows of God and his spear; for that people could not move—no, not a finger’s breadth—without the command of God. The sun then was wont before to regard the ordinary command, of which we read in Genesis; but it was then directed for another purpose: for it had regard to the arrows of God flying on the earth as lightning; and it had regard to the arrows, as though it stood astonished and dared not to advance. Why? because it behoved it to submit to God while he was carrying on war. (60) We now then perceive how much kindness is included in these words.
What, therefore, we have already referred to, ought to be borne in mind—that in this place there is no frigid narrative, but such things are brought before the faithful as avail to confirm their hope, that they may feel assured, that the power of God is sufficient for the purpose of delivering them; for it was for this end that he formerly wrought so many miracles. It follows—
(60) There is much beauty and force in this explanation: and accordant with it is the version of Henderson. But that of Newcome is somewhat different—
The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation: By their light thine arrows went abroad; By their brightness, the lightning of thy spear.
To avoid the insertion of so many words in italics which are not in the original, I would render the verse thus—
The sun! the moon! — it stood — she remained stationary, For light to thine arrows which went forth, For brightness to the flashing of thy spear.
The genitive case is often to be rendered as a dative, as in Jeremiah 31:35, [ לאור לילה ], “for the light of the night;” that is, “for light to the night.”
There are twelve MSS. which have “and,” [ ו ], before “moon:” but it is not wanted, the verb “stood” being singular; and it is followed, as I conceive, by another verb in the singular number, and in the feminine gender, while “stood” is in the masculine, and refers to the moon, and the last refers to the sun; which is sometimes feminine, while moon is ever the masculine. The verb [ זבל ] is not properly to dwell, but to continue fixed, or to remain stationary. The order in our language would be this—
The sun remained stationary, the moon stood.—
The Prophet relates here the entrance of the people into the land of Canaan, that the faithful might know that their fathers would not have obtained so many victories had not God put forth the power and strength of his hand. Hence he says, that God himself had trampled on the land in anger. For how could the Israelites have dared to attack so many nations, who had lately come forth from so miserable a bondage? They had indeed been in the desert for forty years; but they were always trembling and fearful, and we also know that they were weak and feeble. How then was it, that they overcame most powerful kings? that they made war with nations accustomed to war? Doubtless God himself trod down the land in his wrath, and also threshed the nations: as it is said in Psalms 44:5,“
It was not by their own sword that they got the land of Canaan; neither their own power, nor their own hand saved them; but the Lord showed favor to them, and became their Deliverer.”
Justly then does the Prophet ascribe this to God, that he himself walked over the land; for otherwise the Israelites would never have dared to move a foot. Doubtless, they could never have been settled in that land, had not God gone before them. Hence when God did tread on the land in his anger, then it became a quiet habitation to the children of Abraham; warlike nations were then easily and without much trouble conquered by the Israelites, though they were previously very weak.
We now see, that the Prophet sets forth here before the eyes of the people their entrance into the land, that they might know that God did not in vain put to flight so many nations at one time; but that the land of Canaan might be the perpetual inheritance of his chosen people.
The Prophet changes often the tenses of the verbs, inconsistently with the common usage of the Hebrew language; but it must be observed, that he so refers to those histories, as though God were continually carrying on his operations; and as though his presence was to be looked for in adversities, the same as what he had granted formerly to the fathers. Hence the change of tenses does not obscure the sense, but, on the contrary, shows to us the design of the Prophet, and helps us to understand the meaning. It follows at length -
The Prophet applies again to the present state of the people what he had before recorded—that God went forth with his Christ for the salvation of his people. Some consider that there is understood a particle of comparison, and repeat the verb twice, “As thou didst then go forth for the deliverance of thy people, so now wilt thou go forth for the deliverance of thy people with thy Christ.” But this repetition is strained. I therefore take the words of the Prophet simply as they are—that God went forth for the deliverance of his people. But when God’s people are spoken of, their gratuitous adoption must ever be remembered. How was it that the children of Abraham became the peculiar people of God? Did this proceed from any worthiness? Did it come to them naturally? None of these things can be alleged. Though then they differed in nothing from other nations, yet God was pleased to choose them to be a people to himself. By the title, the people of God, is therefore intimated their adoption. Now this adoption was not temporary or momentary, but was to continue to the end. Hence it was easy for the faithful to draw this conclusion—that they were to hope from God the same help as what he had formerly granted to the fathers.
Thou wentest forth, he says, for the salvation, for the salvation of thy people. He repeats the word salvation, and not without reason; for he wished to call attention to this point, as when he had said before—that God had not in vain manifested, by so many miracles, his power, as though he were angry with the sea and with rivers, but had respect to the preservation of his people. Since then the salvation of the Church has ever been the design of God in working miracles, why should the faithful be now cast down, when for a time they were oppressed by adversities? for God ever remains the same: and why should they despond, especially since that ancient deliverance, and also those many deliverances, of which he had hitherto spoken, are so many evidences of his everlasting covenant. These indeed ought to be connected with the word of God; that is, with that promise, according to which he had received the children of Abraham into favor for the purpose of protecting them to the end. “For salvation, for salvation,” says the Prophet, and that of his elect people.
He adds, with thy Christ. This clause still more confirms what Habakkuk had in view—that God had been from the beginning the deliverer of his people in the person of the Mediator. When God, therefore, delivered his people from the hand of Pharaoh, when he made a way for them to pass through the Red Sea, when he redeemed them by doing wonders, when he subdued before them the most powerful nations, when he changed the laws of nature in their behalf—all these things he did through the Mediator. For God could never have been propitious either to Abraham himself or to his posterity, had it not been for the intervention of a Mediator. Since then it has ever been the office of the Mediator to preserve in safety the Church of God, the Prophet takes it now for granted, that Christ was now manifested in much clearer light than formerly; for David was his lively image, as well as his successors. God then gave a living representation of his Christ when he erected a kingdom in the person of David; and he promised that this kingdom should endure as long as the sun and moon should shine in the heavens. Since, then, there were in the time of Habakkuk clearer prophecies than in past times respecting the eternity of this kingdom, ought not the people to have taken courage, and to have known of a certainty that God would be their Deliverer, when Christ should come? We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet. (61) But I cannot now go farther; I shall defer the subject until tomorrow.
(61) However true is what is said here, it seems not to be the doctrine of this text. The version of Aquila and the Vulgate have been followed as to the second clause of the verse. The Septuagint read, του σωσαι τον χριστον σου— to save thy Christ;” or, according to Alex. cod., “thy Christs —τους χριστους σου; ” or, according to Barb. MS., “thine elect —τους εκλεκτους σου. ” Five Hebrew MSS. have [ משיחיד ], “thine anointed ones.” But if “people” in the preceding line; or it may refer to Joshua and his successors, the singular being used, as it is often done by the Prophets, in the collective sense. The particle [ את ] before it is not often used as a preposition; and the word [ ישע ] may better be taken here as a verb, according to the Septuagint, than as a noun, though as a verb it most commonly occurs in Hiphil: but see 1 Samuel 23:5; 2 Samuel 8:6. The following would then be the version—
Go forth didst thou to save thy people, To save thine anointed: Thou didst smite the head from the house of the wicked, Emptying out the foundation even to the neck.
The reference in the two lines is evidently to the rooting out of the Canaanites, and not, as Newcome thinks, to the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt. The singular is poetically used for the plural: “head,” instead of heads, or chiefs, etc. The last line seems to be a proverbial saying, signifying an entire demolition, the very foundation being dug up, though so deep as to reach up to man’s neck. There is no MSS. nor version to countenance [ צור ], “rock,” which Houbigant and Newcome adopt.— Ed.
At the beginning of this verse the Prophet pursues the same subject—that God had wounded all the enemies of his people; and he says that the head of villages or towns had been wounded, though some think that פרזים, perezim, mean rather the inhabitants of towns; for the Hebrews call fortified towns or villages פרזות, perezut, and the word is commonly found in the feminine gender; but as it is here a masculine noun, it is thought that it means the inhabitants. At the same time this does not much affect the subject; for the Prophet simply means, that not only things had been overthrown by God’s hand, but also all the provinces under their authority; as though he had said that God’s vengeance, when his purpose was to defend his people, advanced through all the villages and through every region, so that not a corner was safe. (62) But we must also notice what follows— with his rods. The Prophet means that the wicked had been smitten by their own sword. Though the word rods is put here, it is yet to be taken for all kinds of instruments or weapons; it is the same as though it was said that they had been wounded by their own hands. (63)
We now perceive the import of this clause—that God not only put forth his strength when he purposed to crush the enemies of his people, but that he had also smitten them with infatuation and madness, so that they destroyed themselves by their own hands. And this was done, as in the case of the Midianites, who, either by turning their swords against one another, fell by mutual wounds, or by slaying themselves, perished by their own hands. (Jude 7:2.) We indeed often read of the wicked that they ensnared themselves, fell into the pit which they had made, and, in short, perished through their own artifices; and the Prophet says here that the enemies of the Church had fallen, through God’s singular kindness, though no one rose up against them; for they had transfixed or wounded themselves by their own staff. Some read—“Thou hast cursed his sceptres and the head of his villages;” but the interpretation which I have given is much more appropriate.
He adds, that they came like a whirlwind. It is indeed a verb in the future tense; but the sentence must be thus rendered—“When they rushed as a whirlwind to cast me down, when their exultation was to devour the poor in their hiding-places.” It is indeed only a single verb, but it comes from סער, sor, which means a whirlwind, and we cannot render it otherwise than by a paraphrase. They rushed, he says, like a whirlwind. The Prophet here enlarges on the subject of God’s power, for he had checked the enemies of his people when they rushed on with so much impetuosity. Had their advance been slow God might have frustrated their attempts without a miracle, but as their own madness rendered them precipitate, and made them to be like a whirlwind, God’s power was more clearly known in restraining such violence. We now understand the import of what is here said; for the Prophet’s special object is not to complain of the violent and impetuous rage of enemies, but to exalt the power of God in checking the violent assaults of those enemies whom he saw raging against his people.
He subjoins, their exultation was to devour the poor. He intimates that there was nothing in the world capable of resisting the wicked, had not God brought miraculous help from heaven; for when they came to devour the poor, they came not to wage war, but to devour the prey like wild beasts. Then he says, to devour the poor in secret. He means, that the people of God had no strength to resist, except help beyond all hope came from heaven. (64)
The import of the whole is—that when the miserable Israelites were without any protection, and exposed to the rage and cruelty of their enemies, they had been miraculously helped; for the Lord destroyed their enemies by their own swords; and that when they came, as it were to enjoy a victory, to take the prey, they were laid prostrate by the hand of God: hence his power shone forth more brightly. It follows—
(62) The Keri and many MSS. read [ פרזיו ], “his villages;” but there is no need of this change, for the singular is used throughout instead of the plural, until we come to the two following lines; and this proves that the singular is to be taken in a collective sense. Henderson renders it “captains,” contrary to the meaning of the word in other parts. It means an open unfortified village, as it were scattered, and without any boundaries.— Ed.
(63) Newcome and some others, without any authority, read “thy rod;” but conjecture, without some solid reason, cannot be allowed.— Ed.
(64) “To devour the poor in secret,” seems to have an allusion to the practice of wild beasts, who take their prey to their dens to devour it there. The poor her, as in many other places, mean the helpless, such as are destitute of aid or power to resist their enemies. The line may be thus rendered—
Their joy was, as it were, to devour the helpless in secret.—
Some read, “Thou hast trodden thy horses in the sea;” but it is a solecism, that is quite evident. Others, “Thou hast trodden in the sea by thy horses.” But what need is there of seeking such strained explanations, since the verb דרך, darek, means to go or to march? The Prophet’s meaning is by no means doubtful—that God would make a way for himself in the sea, and on his own horses. How? even when great waters were gathered into a mass. The Prophet again refers to the history of the passage through the Red Sea; for it was a work of God, as it has been said, worthy of being remembered above all other works: it is therefore no wonder that the Prophet dwells so much in setting forth this great miracle. Thou then didst make a way for thy horses —where? in the sea; which was contrary to nature. And then he adds, The heap of waters: for the waters had been gathered together, and a firm and thick mass appeared, which was not according to nature; for we know that water is a fluid, and that hardly a drop of water can stand without flowing. (65) How then was it that he stopped the course of Jordan, and that the Red Sea was divided? These were evidences of God’s incomprehensible power, and rightly ought these to have added courage to the faithful, knowing, as they ought to have done, that nothing could have opposed their salvation, which God was not able easily to remove, whenever it pleased him. It follows—
(65) The word is [ חמר ], which many have rendered acervus —heap; but there is no clear instance in which it has such a meaning. It is without a preposition, and the Septuagint render it by a participle, ταρασσοντας, which agrees with “horses.” It is singular in Hebrew, and, if a participle, it agrees with the nominative case to the preceding verb, [ דרכת ], “thou didst guide” or direct. The two lines might then be rendered thus,—
Thou didst guide through the sea thy horses, Disturbing mighty waters.
Both Marckius and Henderson think that the passage through the Red Sea is not what is meant; but the subjugation of the Canaanites, conveyed in a language derived from that event.— Ed.
Those interpreters are mistaken in my view, who connect the verb, “I have heard,” with the last verse, as though the Prophet had said, that he had conceived dread from those evidences of God’s power: for the Prophet had no occasion to fear in regarding God as armed with unexpected power for the salvation of his people; there was no reason for such a thing. Hence these things do not agree together. But he returns again to that dread which he had entertained on account of God’s voice in those terrific threatenings which we before referred to. We must always bear in mind the Prophet’s design—that his object was to humble the faithful, that they might suppliantly acknowledge to God their sins and solicit his forgiveness. His purpose also was to animate them with strong hope, that they might nevertheless look for deliverance. He had already said at the beginning, “Lord, I have heard thy voice; I feared.” He now repeats the same thing: for if he had spoken only of that terrific voice, the faithful might have been overwhelmed with despair; he therefore wished opportunely to prevent this evil, by interposing what might have comforted them. For this reason he recited these histories, by which God had proved that he was armed with invincible power to save his Church. Having done this, he applies his general doctrine to present circumstances, and says, “I have heard.” What had he heard? even those judgements with which God had determined to visit the contumacy of his people. Since, then, God had threatened his people with a horrible destruction, the Prophet says now, that he had heard and trembled, so that he had been confounded. He speaks in the singular number; but this was done, as we have said, because he represented the whole people, as was the case before (which escaped my notice) when he said, his enemies came like whirlwind to cast him down; for certainly he did not then speak of himself but of the ancient people. As, then, the Prophet here undertakes the cause of the whole Church, he speaks as though he were the collective body of the people: and so he says that he had heard; but the faithful speak here as with one mouth, that they had heard, and that their inside trembled
Some read, “I was dismayed, or I feared, and my inside trembled at his voice.” He takes קול, kul, voice, not for report, but, as it has been said, for threatening. The faithful, then, declare here, that they dreaded the voice of God, before he had executed his judgements, or before he inflicted the punishment which he had threatened. He says, quiver did my lips. The verb צלל, tsalel, means sometimes to tingle, and so some render it here, “Tingle did my lips;” but this is not suitable, and more tolerable is the rendering of others, “Palpitate did my lips.” The Hebrews say that what is meant is that motion in the lips which fear or trembling produces. I therefore render the words, “quiver did my lips;” as when one says in our language, Mes levres ont barbate; that is, when the whole body shakes with trembling, not only a noise is made by the clashing of the teeth, but an agitation is also observed in the lips.
Enter, he says, did rottenness into my bones and within myself I made a noise, (it is the verb רגז, regaz, again,) or I trembled. No doubt the Prophet describes here the dread, which could not have been otherwise than produced by the dreadful vengeance of God. It hence follows that he does not treat here of those miracles which were, on the contrary, calculated to afford an occasion of rejoicing both to the Prophet and to the whole of the chosen people; but that the vengeance of God, such as had been predicted, is described here.
He now adds, That I may rest in the day of affliction (66) There seems to be here an inconsistency—that the Prophet was affected with grief even to rottenness, that he trembled throughout his members with dread, and now that all this availed to produce rest. But we must inquire how rest is to be obtained through these trepidations, and dreads, and tremblings. We indeed know that the more hardened the wicked become against God, the more grievous ruin they ever procure for themselves. But there is no way of obtaining rest, except for a time we tremble within ourselves, that is, except God’s judgement awakens us, yea, and reduces us almost to nothing. Whosoever therefore securely slumbers, will be confounded in the day of affliction; but he who in time anticipates the wrath of God, and is touched with fear, as soon as he hears that God the judge is at hand, provides for himself the most secure rest in the day of affliction. We now then see, that the right way of seeking rest is set forth here by the Prophet, when he says, that he had been confounded, and that rottenness had entered into his bones that he could have no comfort, except he pined away as one half-dead: and the design of the Prophet, as I have already said, was to exhort the faithful to repentance. But we cannot truly and from the heart repent, until our sins become displeasing to us: and the hatred of sin proceeds from the fear of God, and that sorrow which Paul regards as the mother of repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:10.)
This exhortation is also very necessary for us in the present day. We see how inclined we are by nature to indifference; and when God brings before us our sins, and then sets before us his wrath, we are not moved; and when we entertain any fear, it soon vanishes. Let us, then, know that no rest can be to us in the day of distress, except we tremble within ourselves, except dread lays hold on all our faculties, and except all our soul becomes almost rotten. And hence it is said in Psalms 4:4, “Tremble, and ye shall not sin.” And Paul also shows that the true and profitable way of being angry is, when one is angry with his sins (Ephesians 4:26,) and when we tremble within ourselves. In the same manner does the Prophet describe the beginnings of repentance, when he says, that the faithful trembled in their bowels, and were so shaken within, that even their lips quivered, and, in short, (and this is the sum of the whole,) that all their senses felt consternation and fear.
He says, When he shall ascend: he speaks, no doubt, of the Chaldeans; When therefore the enemy shall ascend against the people, that he may cut them off: for גדה or גוד, gade or gud, means to cut off, and it means also to gather, and so some render it, “that he may gather them:” but the other meaning is better, “when the enemy shall ascend, that he may cut them off.” If one would have the word God to be understood, I do not object: for the Prophet does not otherwise speak of the Chaldeans than as the ministers and executioners of God’s wrath.
In short, he intimates, that they who had been moved and really terrified by God’s vengeance, would be in a quiet state when God executed his judgements. How so? because they would calmly submit to the rod, and look for a happy deliverance from their evils; for their minds would be seasonably prepared for patience, and then the Lord would also console them, as it is said in Psalms 51:17, that he despises not contrite hearts. When, therefore, the faithful are in a suitable time humbled, and when they thus anticipate the judgement of God, they then find a rest prepared for them in his bosom. It follows—
(66) The word [ אשר ], which Calvin renders ut , “that,” has occasioned great trouble to critics. Marckius reads qui —“who,” “Who shall rest,” etc.; Henderson, “yet,” “Yet I shall have rest,” etc. But it is never found as an adversative. The construction of this line and the following is very difficult; and many have been the forms in which they have been rendered. The verb [ נוח ] means not only to rest from action or labor, but also to rest in the sense of remaining or continuing. See Genesis 2:15, and Isaiah 2:2. And were it taken in this latter sense here, there would be a consistency in the whole passage. The Prophet describes first the dread which seized him on hearing the report of God’s vengeance; and then in the two last lines he accounts for his consternation, because he should remain to witness this vengeance; and he proceeds in verse 17 to set forth the effects of it, and in verse 18 he states that he would still rejoice in the God of his salvation. The three verses may be thus rendered,—
16. I heard, — and tremble did my bowels; At the voice my lips quivered; Enter does rottenness into my bones, And on my own account I tremble; Because I shall remain to the day of distress, To his coming up to the people, who shall invade me.
17. For the fig-tree shall not shoot forth, And no produce shall be on the vines; Fail shall the fruit of the olive, And the fields, none shall yield food; Cut off from the fold shall be the sheep, And no ox shall be in the stalls:
18. But as for me, in Jehovah will I rejoice, I will exult in the God of my salvation.“
On my own account,” or for myself, [ תחתי ]: the preposition, [ תחת ], is often taken in this sense; See 2 Samuel 19:21, Proverbs 30:21. “Invade us” or assault us, or them, the people, [ יגודנו ]; for [ נו ] is either us or him, but in our language them, for so we speak of people. “And the fields, none,” etc. There are instances of [ לא ], as here, in which it may be rendered “none” and “nothing.” See Ezekiel 20:38, Job 6:21. “In the God,” etc.; it may be rendered, “In my God, my Savior,” as it is in the Septuagint and the Vulgate. — Ed.
The Prophet declares now at large what that rest would be of which he had spoken; it would be even this—that he would not cease to rejoice in God, even in the greatest afflictions. He indeed foresees how grievous the impending punishment would be, and he warns also and arouses the faithful, that they might perceive the approaching judgement of God. He says, Flourish shall not the fig, and no fruit shall be on the vines; fail shall the olive. First, the fig shall not flourish; then, the fields shall produce nothing; and lastly, the cattle and the sheep shall fail. Though the figs produce fruit without flowering, it is not yet an improper use of פרח, perech, which means strictly to bud. (67) He means that the desolation of the land was nigh at hand, and that the people would be reduced to extreme poverty. But it was an instance of rare virtue, to be able to rejoice in the Lord, when occasions of sorrow met him on every side.
The Prophet then teaches us what advantage it is to the faithful seasonably to submit to God, and to entertain serious fear when he threatens them, and when he summons them to judgement; and he shows that though they might perish a hundred times, they would yet not perish, for the Lord would ever supply them with occasions of joy, and would also cherish this joy within, so as to enable them to rise above all their adversities. Though, then, the land was threatened with famine, and though no food would be supplied to them, they would yet be able always to rejoice in the God of their salvation; for they would know him to be their Father, though for a time he severely chastised them. This is a delineation of that rest of which he made mention before.
The import of the whole is—“Though neither the figs, nor the vines, nor the olives, produce any fruit, and though the field be barren, though no food be given, yet I will rejoice in my God;” that is, our joy shall not depend on outward prosperity; for though the Lord may afflict us in an extreme degree, there will yet be always some consolation to sustain our minds, that they may not succumb under evils so grievous; for we are fully persuaded, that our salvation is in God’s hand, and that he is its faithful guardian. We shall, therefore, rest quietly, though heaven and earth were rolled together, and all places were full of confusion; yea, though God fulminated from heaven, we shall yet be in a tranquil state of mind, looking for his gratuitous salvation.
We now perceive more clearly, that the sorrow produced by the sense of our guilt is recommended to us on account of its advantage; for nothing is worse than to provoke God’s wrath to destroy us; and nothing is better than to anticipate it, so that the Lord himself may comfort us. We shall not always escape, for he may apparently treat us with severity; but though we may not be exempt from punishment, yet while he intends to humble us, he will give us reasons to rejoice: and then in his own time he will mitigate his severity, and by the effects will show himself propitious to us. Nevertheless, during the time when want or famine, or any other affliction, is to be borne, he will render us joyful with this one consolation, for, relying on his promises, we shall look for him as the God of our salvation. Hence, on one side Habakkuk sets the desolation of the land; and on the other, the inward joy which the faithful never fail to possess, for they are upheld by the perpetual favor of God. And thus he warns, as I have said, the children of God, that they might be prepared to bear want and famine, and calmly to submit to God’s chastisements; for had he not exhorted them as he did, they might have failed a hundred times.
We may hence gather a most useful doctrine,—That whenever signs of God’s wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains to us—to consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, which faith brings to us, can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows and anxieties.
But we must notice what follows, In the God of my salvation: for sorrow would soon absorb all our thoughts, except God were present as our preserver. But how does he appear as such to the faithful? even when they estimate not his love by external things, but strengthen themselves by embracing the promise of his mercy, and never doubt but that he will be propitious to them; for it is impossible but that he will remember mercy even while he is angry. It follows—
(67) The verb means to break forth either in buds, or germs, or shoots, and so to germinate, or to blossom. It is rendered by the Septuagint καρποφορησει, shall bear fruit.— Ed.
He confirms the same truth,—that he sought no strength but in God alone. But there is an implied contrast between God and those supports on which men usually lean. There is indeed no one, who is not of a cheerful mind, when he possesses all necessary things, when no danger, no fear is impending: we are then courageous when all things smile on us. But the Prophet, by calling God his strength, sets him in opposition to all other supports; for he wishes to encourage the faithful to persevere in their hope, however grievously God might afflict them. His meaning then is,—that even when evils impetuously rage against us, when we vacillate and are ready to fall every moment, God ought then to be our strength; for the aid which he has promised for our support is all-sufficient. We hence see that the Prophet entertained firm hope, and by his example animated the faithful, provided they had God propitious, however might all other things fail them.
He will make, he says, my feet like those of hinds. I am inclined to refer this to their return to their own country, though some give this explanation,—“God will give the swiftest feet to his servants, so that they may pass over all obstacles to destroy their enemies;” but as they might think in their exile that their return was closed up against them, the Prophet introduces this most apt similitude, that God would give his people feet like those of hinds, so that they could climb the precipices of mountains, and dread no difficulties: He will then, he says, give me the feet of hinds, and make me to tread on my high places. Some think that this was said with regard to Judea, which is, as it is well known, mountainous; but I take the expression more simply in this way,—that God would make his faithful people to advance boldly and without fear along high places: for they who fear hide themselves and dare not to raise up the head, nor proceed openly along public roads; but the Prophet says, God will make me to tread on any high places
He at last adds, To the leader on my beatings. The first word some are wont to render conqueror. This inscription, To the leader, למנצח, lamenatsech, frequently occurs in the Psalms. To the conqueror, is the version of some; but it means, I have no doubt, the leader of the singers. Interpreters think that God is signified here by this title, for he presides over all the songs of the godly: and it may not inaptly be applied to him as the leader of the singers, as though the Prophet had said,—“God will be a strength to me; though I am weak in myself, I shall yet be strong in him; and he will enable me to surmount all obstacles, and I shall proceed boldly, who am now like one half-dead; and he will thus become the occasion of my song, and be the leader of the singers engaged in celebrating his praises, when he shall deliver from death his people in so wonderful a manner.” We hence see that the connection is not unsuitable, when he says, that there would be strength for him in God; and particularly as giving of thanks belonged to the leader or the chief singer, in order that God’s aid might be celebrated, not only privately but at the accustomed sacrifices, as was usually the case under the law. Those who explain it as denoting the beginning of a song, are extremely frigid and jejune in what they advance; I shall therefore pass it by.
He adds, on my beatings. This word, נגינות, neginoth, I have already explained in my work on the Psalms. Some think that it signifies a melody, others render it beatings ( pulsationes) or notes ( modos;) and others consider that musical instruments are meant. (68) I affirm nothing in a doubtful matter: and it is enough to bear in mind what we have said,—that the Prophet promises here to God a continual thanksgiving, when the faithful were redeemed, for not only each one would acknowledge that they had been saved by God’s hand, but all would assemble together in the Temple, and there testify their gratitude, and not only with their voices confess God as their Deliverer, but also with instruments of music, as we know it to have been the usual custom under the Law.
(68) No satisfactory conjectures have been made by any as to the my added to this word. Hezekiah says at the end of his prayer, Isaiah 38:20, [ ננגז ונגינותי ], “and my neginoth will we sing,” or play, etc. Our version makes this my to refer to the ode or song he made to be played on the neginoth, supposed to have been a stringed instrument. In this case, “my neginoth” means the song he made for the neginoth. Then we might render the words,—
For the leader; my song on the stringed instruments.—
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany