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Bible Commentaries
Habakkuk 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1

(1) The prophet.—This title (han-nâbî) is applied only to Habakkuk, Haggai, and Zechariah. In the later historical books it is used to designate the members of those prophetical colleges which were founded by Samuel, and kept up, at all events, till the time of Elisha. It is uncertain whether in these three minor prophets it has a similar force, or merely, as in the Pentateuch, indicates a chosen minister whom God inspires to reveal His will. On the term burden, or sentence, see Isaiah 13:1.

Verses 1-4

(1-4) Habakkuk complains of the apparent triumph of wickedness among his countrymen.

Verse 2

(2) Even cry out.—The latter half of the verse is best rendered “Even cry unto thee Violence! and thou wilt not save.” The single word “violence!” (châmâs) occurs elsewhere, as an appeal for assistance, used as we use the cry “murder!” “fire!” &c., among ourselves. (See Jeremiah 20:8, Job 19:7.)

Verse 3

(3) Why dost thou shew me iniquity? . . .—Better, Why dost thou show me distress and look upon grievance; oppression and violence are before me; and there is strife, and contention exalts itself.” The question, “Why dost thou . . . look upon grievance?” is illustrated by Habakkuk 1:13, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil.” Grievance, or “trouble wilfully caused.” Heb. âmâl, associated again with âven, a term of similar import, in Psalms 10:7; Psalms 55:11.

Verse 4

(4) The law—the Mosaic tôrâh—which ought to be a bond of security and social welfare is “slacked” or “paralyzed;” and is, therefore, unable to do its work. “Judgment” (mishpât, i.e., “redress of evils “) “doth never go forth,” for the wicked have hemmed the righteous in; and, therefore, there are no judicial sentences, save such as favour the wicked.

Verse 5

(5) Among the heathen.—These words are emphatic. They imply—Jehovah will no longer manifest Himself among His chosen people, but among the Gentiles. Let them look abroad, and they shall see Him using the Chaldæans as His instrument for their own chastisement. They are to “wonder,” not at God’s choice of an agent, but at the consequences of the visitation, which resulted in the sack of the Temple, and the deportation of 10,000 captives; a work which the Jews might well not have credited, though it were told them. The words “among the heathen” (bag-gôyim) were, probably, misread by the LXX. translators bôgdîm. Hence the translation, Καταϕρονηταί, “ye despisers.” In Acts 13:41 St. Paul is represented as citing the verse in its LXX. form, as a warning to his Jewish hearers at Antioch. This citation, of course, gives no authority whatever to the variant. Nor is it certain that St. Paul did not actually quote the Hebrew form of the verse, which would seem more appropriate to the circumstances than the other. (Comp. Acts 13:42; Acts 13:46 seq.). That St. Luke should substitute the Greek variant is intelligible enough.

Verses 5-11

(5-11) Jehovah’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint. These disorders are to be punished by an invasion of Chaldæaus. The appearance, character, and operations of these invaders are described.

Verse 6

(6) I raise up the Chaldeansi.e., I am bringing up the Chaldæan or Babylonian armies into Judæa. The phrase implies that the Chaldæans were not yet in Judæa, but there is no occasion to find an allusion to the recent rise of the Chaldæan nation. We notice this point because an ethnological theory (now generally abandoned) has regarded the Chaldæans of the prophetic period as raised to national existence only a little time before the date of Habakkuk. It was supposed that they were a race distinct from the Chaldæans of earlier Scripture; being, in fact, an association of northern hordes who had but recently penetrated the lower Mesopotamian valley. Habakkuk 1:6 and Isaiah 23:13 were therefore interpreted as illustrating the fact that these new nationalities “were on a sudden ‘raised up,’ elevated from their low estate of Assyrian colonists, to be the conquering people which they became under Nebuchadnezzar.” The confutation of this theory may be found in Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies, i. 57, 59. It appears that Babylon was peopled at this time, not, as was formerly supposed, with hordes of Armenians, Arabs, Kurds, and Sclaves, but with a mixed population, in which the old Chaldæan and Assyrian elements preponderated. The Chaldæans of the seventh century B.C. were, in fact, as legitimate descendants of the people of Nimrod’s empire as we are of the Saxons. Certainly, the rapidity with which Babylon rose from the position of an Assyrian colony to that of ruler of Asia was marvellous. But the work which is to make the Jews wonder is not God’s choice of an agent, but that agent’s proceeding; not the elevation of one Gentile power in the place of another, but the attack which that new power is to make upon the sacred city.

Bitter and hasty.—Better, fierce and impetuous. The association of these two epithets, mar and nimhâr, is the more forcible, because of their similarity in sound. With respect to the whole passage Habakkuk 1:6-11, Kleinert well remarks, “The present passage is the locus classicus for the characteristics of this warlike people, just as Isaiah 5:26 seq. is for the characteristics of the Assyrians.”

Verse 7

(7) Their judgment . . .—Their “judgment” means their claim to adjudge the affairs of mankind. It proceeds from “themselves,” as irresponsible, recognising no Supreme Being as the source of justice.

Their dignity, in like manner, proceeds from “themselves,” because self-sustained, unsanctioned by the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Verse 8

(8) Are more fierce.—Better, are sharper. This is the literal meaning of the verb. The ideas intended are those of activity and ferocity, both prompted by hunger. The evening wolf coming out of his lair to find prey is elsewhere an illustration of ravenous greediness. (See Zephaniah 3:3 and Psalms 59:7). In Jeremiah 5:6 God’s punishment is likened to “a wolf of the evening,” “a lion out of the forest.” Jeremiah 4:13 “his chariots shall be as a whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles,” is similar to Habakkuk 1:8, but it is not necessary to regard it either as its original or its echo. Both passages are to some extent based on 2 Samuel 1:23.

Verse 9

(9) Their faces shall sup up as the east wind.—Literally, if we could accept this interpretation, the eagerness of their faces is eastward. The passage, however, is beset with philological difficulties. If the word kâdîmâh could be translated “east wind,” the invading Chaldæan host would be compared to a blast from the east, passing over the land, and leaving it scorched and blighted. The captives (“captivity,” Authorised Version) whom the invader carries off would then be likened to the cloud of dust, sand, &c., which accompanies this withering blast. This gives a good sense. Unfortunately, however, according to all analogy, kâdîmâh must mean either “eastwards” or “forwards.” The meaning of mgammath (used here only) is probably either “crowd” or “eager desire.” Two plausible renderings are thus presented for our choice—“There is a crowd of their faces pressing forwards;” “Their faces turn eagerly forwards.” For other interpretations, we must refer the Hebrew student to the critical commentaries.

Verse 10

(10) Kings and princes are deposed or enthroned at the invader’s pleasure. Thus Nebuchadnezzar set Jehoiakim as a tributary sovereign on the throne of Jerusalem and three years later deposed his son and successor Jehciaohin and made Zedekiah king.

For they shall heap dust, and take it.—This means that they shall besiege and carry all strongholds by means of the mounds of earth commonly used in sieges. These mounds were employed either to place the besieger on a level with the besieged, and so facilitate the operations of siege engines, or to form an inclined plane, up which the besieger might march his men, and so take the place by escalade. We find they were used by the Egyptians (Ezekiel 17:17) and the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:32), as well as by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 6:6, and passim). They are mentioned as employed by the Spartan king Archidamus in the celebrated siege of Platæa in B.C. 429 (Thucydides, lib. 2). In the present passage the term “dust” is used to indicate these mounds of earth, as expressing the contemptuous ease with which the invader effects his capture of strongholds.

Verse 11

(11) Then shall his mind change. . . .—Better, Then he sweeps by like a wind and passes. But he is guilty, making this his strength his god. By an abrupt transition the latter half of the verse diverts our attention from the human view of the world-conqueror to his appearance in God’s sight. Men only see an irresistible force sweeping over the face of the earth like a whirlwind; here to-day, and to-morrow nothing but devastation and ruin to testify to its visit. And men are dazzled by this mighty display of power. But, even as Daniel at Belshazzar’s feast, Habakkuk pronounces the oppressor’s doom in the very hour of triumph. The description of the irresistible invader drops into the sudden depths of anti-climax, “But he is (counted) guilty.” His guilt consists just in what men deem so glorious, in his self-reliant irresponsible pursuit of grandeur. The brute force of armaments is the supreme deity of the Chaldæan. His sword and spear are, as it were, his idols. (Comp. Habakkuk 1:16.) God, in whose hands his breath is, and whose are all his ways, has he not glorified. (Comp. Daniel 5:23.) Therefore that God shall bring on him ruin and ignominy, and the very nations which have marvelled at his prowess shall taunt and contemn him (Habakkuk 2:6). Here, then, is the key-note of so much of the second canto (2 Timothy 2:0; 2 Timothy 2:0 fin.) as relates to the downfall of the invader.

Verse 12

(12) We shall not diei.e., God’s people may suffer, but shall not be obliterated, shall not be “given over unto death.” The rest of the verse runs literally, Jehovah, for judgment hast Thou appointed him, and O Rock, for chastisement hast Thou founded him. “Him,” means, of course, the Chaldæan invader, whom Habakkuk regards as raised up only to be God’s instrument of correction. The term “Rock” has been paraphrased in the Authorised Version. Used absolutely, it occurs as a Divine title in Deuteronomy 32:4. Generally it is qualified in some way, as “my rock,” “our rock,” “rock of salvation” &c.

Verses 12-17

(12-17) Though sore perplexed, Habakkuk feels sure that the God whom this swaggering conqueror has insulted will at last vindicate Himself.

Verse 13

(13) The prophet’s confidence is tempered, however, with anxious fear. Why does not God show plainly that He authorises this visitation? The triumph of this godless invader appears to impugn God’s majesty.

Verse 16

(16) The prophet has already stated that the Chaldæan deifies his own military prowess. Of this statement the present verse is an expansion. Weapons of war may have been literally worshipped by the Babylonians. Similarly, the Sarmatians offered yearly sacrifices to a sword, as the emblem of their god of war (Clem. Alex. Protrept. 64). The Romans also sacrificed to their eagles. But probably the language is metaphorical, and we need not seek a closer illustration than that of Dr. Pusey,—“So the Times said at the beginning of the late war, ‘The French almost worshipped the mitrailleuse as a goddess.’ ‘They idolised, it would say, their invention, as if it could do what God alone could.’”

Verse 17

(17) Shall they therefore empty their net. . . .—Literally, Shall he therefore empty his net? i.e., Shall this voracious Chaldæan plunderer be allowed to consume his prey, and cast in his emptied net again and again?

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/habakkuk-1.html. 1905.
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