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1-4. The view from the watchtower.
1. The prophet climbs his tower, for he must reach a vantage point, if he is to contemplate with real understanding and insight the confusion about his feet, i.e. occasioned by Chaldean aggressiveness and indifference to right. The tower is not, of course, a literal tower—some high and lonely place to which the prophet may retire; it simply suggests the inner light of revelation, by the aid of which he contemplates the perplexing situation. The last clause should read, ’and what answer He will make to my complaint.’
2. The answer which he expects is given, and he is instructed to write it down on tablets, because it is of permanent value, and to write it plainly so that any one might be able to read it fluently. Run] i.e. in his reading, read easily.
3. The ultimate moral issue is clear, though it may be far away. If it is slow, it is sure. It may not come ’in your days’ (Habakkuk 1:5), but ’it is sure to come, it will not be late: and if it tarry, wait for it,’ for in ’your patience ye shall win your souls.’ When the kingdom will come is not clear, but come it, will; for some day ’the earth shall be filled with, the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14). That is the inevitable goal of history.
4. The first few words of this vision, which is regarded as so important and reassuring, are very obscure, but the two clauses of the v. appear to contrast the destinies of the good and the bad respectively; and the meaning probably is, ’As for the wicked, his soul is not straight, or is faint and feeble, within him,’ that is, is doomed to death; ’but the righteous shall live by his fidelity,’ i.e. his faithfulness, his firm trust of Jehovah. In the long march of history, the nations of men that trust in their power and resources and defy morality, are doomed, they do not live. It is the righteous that live, those who regard right and God. However much they suffer, and even when they seem to die, they live; and they live by their faithfulness, i.e. by leaning firmly upon the God who lives for ever, and whose life is a guarantee of theirs. This in one of the profoundest utterances of the Old Testament.
5-20. Woe to the oppressor.
This section is an expansion of Habakkuk 2:4: it describes the oppressor—no doubt the Chaldean—and thereby justifies the doom pronounced upon him. The section takes the form of a series of woes, dramatically pronounced by the nations which the Chaldeans had crushed.
5-8. Woe unto the lust of conquest! Habakkuk 2:5, which has nothing to do with wine, should probably read, ’Woe to the proud and the faithless, the haughty man who is never satisfied.’
6, 7. Woe to him who takes upon himself a heavy burden of debt—referring to the property of which the Chaldeans had plundered the nations. Instead of heavy ’pledges’ (RV), AV (by dividing the single Heb. word into two) reads thick clay. Doubtless both senses are intended: the Hebrews were fond of such plays upon words. Suddenly will thy creditors arise. The ’biters’ are the creditors (the words are alike in the Hebrew), and the Chaldeans will in their turn be bitten, i.e. they will be punished in kind; the plunderers will be themselves plundered (Habakkuk 2:7-8).
8. Of the land, of the city, etc.] RV ’done to the land, to the city,’ etc. The city] perhaps Jerusalem.
9-11. The third woe.
9. RV ’Woe to him that getteth an evil gain for his house.’ The plunder was stored for security in great high buildings, but the very stone and timber cried out against the rapacity which had accumulated it. Their silent tongues were eloquent; accusing voices were everywhere. Considering the range of Habakkuk 2:10, however, it is possible, if not probable, that the whole passage has a larger meaning: for in Habakkuk 2:10 it seems best to interpret the house not as a literal house, but—as often in Hebrew—of the dynasty. In that case, the ruin of the Chaldean dynasty is predicted as the consequence of their cruel and unscrupulous ambitions.
10. Consulted] i.e. contrived: cp. Micah 6:5.
12-14. The fourth woe. Every fabric reared upon iniquity is doomed to destruction. The triumph of the kingdom of God, and of that alone, is sure. The world-conqueror is not Nebuchadrezzar, but Jehovah.
13. The people shall labour in the very fire] RV ’The peoples labour for the fire’: i.e. their cities, built with blood, will be consigned to the flames. The parallel clause (Habakkuk 2:13) shows that the meaning is, their efforts are spent in vain.
15-17. The fifth Woe. The references in Habakkuk 2:15-16 to intoxication must, as Habakkuk 2:17 shows, be taken figuratively. The meaning is that the Chaldeans have dealt with other nations in a spirit of contemptuous cruelty, depriving them of their strength, and doing with them what they would. They will, therefore, be punished, as before, in kind, being compelled by Jehovah to drink the cup they had held to the lips of others. A specimen of their highhandedness is given in Habakkuk 2:17: they had robbed the land and the beasts of their rights—for they, too, have rights—by destroying the cedars of Lebanon to secure material for their own palatial buildings.
18, 19. The sixth woe. The real explanation of the immorality of the Chaldeans is to be found in their foolish conception of God (cp. Habakkuk 1:11). They worshipped idols, gorgeous indeed, but stupid, impotent, dumb, and lifeless.
19. Arise, it shall teach!] RV ’Arise! Shall this teach? ’The parallelism shows that Arise corresponds to Awake, and that, therefore, with the next words a new sentence begins. It is best to read this sentence interrogatively as RV, ’Shall this teach?’. ’This’—pointing with scorn to the motionless image—’what power has this to give the needed instruction or help?’
20. What a Contrast to these idols is the majestic God of Israel, the God of all the earth, whose Temple is in the heavens 1 He is about to appear (Habakkuk 3); hush! before Him, all the earth.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter