INTRODUCTION TO HABAKKUK 1
In this chapter, after the inscription, in which are the title of the book, the name and character of the writer, Habakkuk 1:1, there is a complaint made by the prophet of his cry not being heard, and of salvation being deferred, which was long expected, Habakkuk 1:2 and of the wickedness of the times he lived in; of iniquity and trouble, rapine and oppression, in general; and particularly of corruption in courts of judicature, in which there were nothing but strife and contention, a dilatoriness in proceedings at law, and justice was stopped and suppressed, Habakkuk 1:3 then follows an answer to this, showing that some sore judgment, amazing and incredible, would soon be executed for such sins, Habakkuk 1:5 that the Chaldeans would be raised up and sent against the Jews, and spoil them, and carry them captive; who are described by the cruelty of their temper and disposition; by the swiftness and fierceness of their cavalry; and by their derision of kings, princes, and strong holds; and by their victories and success, which they should impute to their idols, Habakkuk 1:6 and then the prophet, in the name of the church, expresses his faith that the people of God, and his interest, would be preserved, and not perish in this calamity; which is urged from the eternity, holiness, faithfulness, and power of God, and from his design in this affliction, which was correction, and not destruction, Habakkuk 1:12 and the chapter is closed with an expostulation of the prophet with God, in consideration of his purity and holiness; how he could bear with such a wicked nation as the Chaldeans, and suffer them to devour men as fishes, in an arbitrary way, that have no ruler; catch them in their net, and insult them, and ascribe all to their own power and prudence, and think to go on continually in this way, Habakkuk 1:13.
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. This prophecy is called a "burden", or something took up and carried, being what the prophet received from the Lord, and went with to the people of the Jews, and was a heavy burdensome prophecy to them; declaring the calamities that should come upon them by the Chaldeans, who would invade their land, and carry them captive; and Habakkuk, that brought this account, is called a "prophet", to give the greater sanction to it; and it was what he had in vision from the Lord represented unto him, and therefore should be credited. Abarbinel inquires why Habakkuk should be called a prophet, when none of the lesser prophets are, excepting Haggai and Zechariah; and thinks the reason of it is, to give weight to his prophecy, since it might be suspected by some whether he was one; there being none of those phrases to be met with in this prophecy as in others, as "the word of the Lord came", &c. or "thus saith the Lord".
O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!.... The prophet having long observed the sins and iniquities of the people among whom he lived, and being greatly distressed in his mind on account of them, had frequently and importunately cried unto the Lord to put a stop to the abounding of them, that the people might be brought to a sense of their sins, and reform from them; but nothing of this kind appearing, he concludes his prayers were not heard, and therefore expostulates with the Lord upon this head:
even cry unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! either of violence done to himself in the discharge of his office, or of one man to another, of the rich to the poor; and yet, though he cried again and again to the Lord, to check this growing evil, and deliver the oppressed out of the hands of their oppressors, it was not done; which was matter of grief and trouble to him.
Why dost thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance?.... That is, wicked men, and such as give a great deal of trouble vexation, and grief to others, by their rapine and oppression; suggesting that he could not turn his eyes any where, but such persons presented themselves to his view; and that their wicked actions were performed by them openly and publicly, in the sight of all, without any shame or fear. So the Targum,
"why do I see oppressors, and behold those that do the labour of falsehood?'
For spoiling and violence are before me; in my sight and presence, though a prophet, and notwithstanding all my remonstrances, exhortations, and reproofs; such were the hardness, obstinacy, and impudence of this people; to such a height and pitch of iniquity were they arrived, as to regard not the prophets of the Lord. The Targum is,
"spoilers and robbers are before me:'
or, "against me"
and there are that raise up strife and contention; in the kingdom, in cities, in families; in one man, brother, friend, and neighbour, against another; which occasion lawsuits, and in them justice is not done, as follows. It may be rendered, and "there shall be and is a man of strife"; so Japhet: "and he shall raise up contention"; one man given to strife will and does use great contention in communities, civil and religious.
Therefore the law is slacked,.... Is not put into execution against offenders: the civil magistrates, whose office it is to do justice according to law, are dilatory, and do not proceed with vigour and spirit against the transgressors of it, and in favour of honest and good men oppressed: or "it intermits"
"the law languishes;'
loses its force and vigour, and is ready to expire; which is a sad symptom of the bad estate of a commonwealth.
And judgment doth never go forth; at least not right, to the justifying of the righteous, acquitting the innocent, and giving the cause on the right side; condemning the wicked, and punishing offenders as their crime deserves: it never appears as it should do; it is either not done at all, or done badly and perversely:
for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; to hurt him or ensnare him, and by frauds and wicked artifices, and false witnesses, to carry a cause against him:
therefore wrong judgment proceedeth; the cause is given on the wrong side, against a good man, and for a wicked man; all these things the prophet saw with grief, and complained of to the Lord, from whom he has an answer in the following words:
Behold ye among the heathen, and regard,.... This is the Lord's answer to the prophet's complaint, or what he directs him to say to the Jews, guilty of the crimes complained of, which should not go long unpunished; and who are called upon to look around them, and see what was doing among the nations; how the king of Babylon had overturned the Assyrian empire, and was going from place to place, subduing one nation after another, and their turn would be quickly: for these words are not addressed to the heathen, to stir them up to observe what was doing, or about to be done, to the Jews; but to the Jews themselves, to consider and regard the operations of the Lord, and the works of his providence among the nations of the earth. These words are differently rendered in the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and which better agree with the quotation of them by the apostle; see Gill on Acts 13:41,
and wonder marvellously; or "wonder, wonder"
for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you; which was the destruction of the Jewish nation, city, and temple, by the Chaldeans, as is evident from the following words; and, though they were the instruments of it, it was the work of divine Providence; it was done according to the will of God, and by his direction, he giving success; and, being thus declared, was a certain thing, and might be depended on, nothing should hinder it; and it should be done speedily, in that generation, some then living should see it; though the thing was so amazing and incredible, that they would not believe it ever would be; partly because the Chaldeans were their good friends and allies, as they thought, as appears by Josiah's going out against the king of Egypt, when he was marching his army against the king of Babylon; and partly because they were the covenant people of God, and would never be abandoned and given up by him into the hands of another people; and therefore, when they were told of it by the prophets of the Lord, especially by Jeremiah, time after time; who expressly said the king of Babylon would come against them, and they would be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans; yet they would give no credit to it, till their ruin came upon them, as may be observed in various parts of his prophecy. The apostle quotes this passage in the place above mentioned, and applies it to the destruction of the Jews by the Romans, for their contemptuous rejection of the Messiah and his Gospel; which yet they would not believe to the last, though it was foretold by Christ and his apostles.
For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans,.... A people still of late mean and low, famous only for their soothsaying, divination, and judicial astrology; but now become a powerful and warlike people, rising up under the permission of Providence to universal monarchy, and who would quickly add Judea to the rest of their dominions:
that bitter and hasty nation; a cruel and merciless people in their temper and disposition: "bitter" against the people of God and true religion, and causing bitterness, calamities, and distress, wherever they came: "hasty" and precipitate in their determinations; swift and nimble in their motions; active and vigorous in the prosecution of their designs:
which shall march through the breadth of the land; or "breadths of the land"
to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs; the cities of Judea, and houses in them, as well as the palaces and dwellingplaces in Jerusalem, which they had no right unto, but what they got by the sword; what were the legal possessions and inheritances of others from father to son for ages past, these the Chaldeans would dispossess them of; and not only take them, and the spoil and plunder of them, for the present, but retain them in their possession, as an inheritance to be transmitted to their posterity. This may have some respect to the length of the captivity of the Jews, and their land being in the hands of their enemies for the space of seventy years.
They are terrible and dreadful,.... For the fierceness of their countenances; the number and valour of their troops; the splendour of their armour; the victories they had obtained, and the cruelty they had exercised; the fame of all which spread terror wherever they came:
their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves; they will not be directed and governed by any laws of God and man, but by their own; they will do according to their will and pleasure, and none will be able to gainsay and resist them; they will hear no reason or argument; their decrees and determinations they make of themselves shall be put into execution, and there will be no opposing their tyrannical measures; they will usurp a power, and take upon them an authority over others of themselves, which all must submit unto; no mercy and pity: no goodness and humanity, are to be expected from such lawless and imperious enemies.
Their horses also are swifter than the leopards,.... Creatures remarkable for their swiftness: these are creatures born of the mating of a he panther and a lioness, and not of a lion and a she panther, as some have affirmed; and which adultery is highly resented by the lion; nor will he suffer it to go unrevenged, as Pliny
and are more fierce than ravening wolves; which creatures are naturally fierce, and especially when they are hungry, and particularly at evening; when, having had no food all the day, their appetites are very keen, and they go in quest of their prey; and, when they meet with it, fall upon it with greater eagerness and fierceness. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, than the wolves of Arabia; that there are wolves very frequent in Arabia, is observed by Diodorus Siculus
and their horsemen shall spread themselves; or be multiplied, as the Targum; they shall be many, and spread themselves all over the country, so that there will be no escaping; all will fall into their hands:
and their horsemen shall come from far; as Chaldea was reckoned from Judea, and especially in comparison of neighbouring nations, who used to be troublesome, as Moab, Edom, &c. see Jeremiah 5:15,
they shall flee as the eagle that hasteth to eat; those horsemen shall be so speedy in their march, that they shall seem rather to fly than ride, and even to fly as swift as the eagle, the swiftest of birds, and which itself flies swiftest when hungry, and in sight of its prey; and the rather this bird is mentioned, because used by many nations, as the Persians, and others, for a military sign
They shall come all for violence,.... Or, "the whole of it"
their faces shall sup up as the east wind: their countenances will appear so stern and fierce, that their very looks will so frighten, as to cause men to sink and die through terror; just as herbs and plants shrivel up and wither away, when blasted by a nipping east wind. So the Targum,
"the reception or look of their faces is like to a vehement east wind.'
Some render it,
"the look or design of their faces is to the east
when the Chaldeans were on their march to Judea, their faces were to the west or south west; but then their desire and views were, that when they had got the spoil they came for, as in the preceding clause, to carry it to Babylon, which lay eastward or north east of Judea, and thither their faces looked:
and they shall gather the captivity as the sand; or gather up persons, both in Judea, and in other countries conquered by them, as innumerable as the sand of the sea, and carry them captive into their own land. Captivity is put for captives.
And they shall scoff at the kings,.... Or, "he shall"
and the princes shall be a scorn unto them; the nobles, counsellors, and ministers of state; or leaders and commanders of armies, and general officers, in whom great confidence is often put; but these the king of Babylon and his forces would mock and laugh at, as being nothing in their hands, and who would fall an easy prey to them:
they shall deride every strong hold; in Jerusalem, in the whole land of Judea, and in every other country they invade, or pass through, none being able to stand out against them:
for they shall heap dust, and take it; easily, as it were in sport, only by raising a dust heap, or a heap of dirt; by which is meant a mount raised up to give them a little rise, to throw in their darts or stones, or use their engines and battering rams to more advantage, and to scale the walls, and get possession. There are two other senses mentioned by Kimchi; as that they shall gather a great number of people as dust, and take it; or they shall gather dust to till up the trenches and ditches about the wall, that so they may come at it, and take it.
Then shall his mind change,.... The mind of the king of Babylon; not that, when he had taken Jerusalem, he altered his purpose, and laid aside his designs of attacking other nations, and returned to his own country; where he became guilty of gross idolatry, in setting up the golden image in the plain of Dura, which he required all his subjects to worship, and to which he ascribed all his victories; for, five years after this, Josephus
and he shall pass over
and offend, imputing this his power unto his god
"therefore, because of the lifting up of his spirit, his kingdom was removed from him; and he committed an offence, in that he multiplied glory to his idol;'
and some interpret the whole of this of the miserable condition Nebuchadnezzar was brought into, being a prophecy of it: "then shall his mind change"; his heart from man's to a beast's, Daniel 4:16, "and he shall pass over"; from all society and conversation with men, and have his dwelling with beasts, Daniel 4:31, "and offend", or rather "be punished", and become desolate and miserable, for his pride, and idolatry, and other sins: "this his power" is "his god"
Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine holy One?.... The prophet, foreseeing these calamities coming upon his nation and people, observes some things for their comfort in this verse; and expostulates with God in the following verses Habakkuk 1:13 about his providential dealings, in order to obtain an answer from him, which might remove the objections of his own mind, and those of other good men he personates, raised against them; being stumbled at this, that wicked men should be suffered to succeed and prosper, and the righteous should be afflicted and distressed by them: but for his own present consolation, and that of others, in a view of the worst that should befall them, he strongly asserts,
we shall not die; meaning not a corporeal death, for that all men die, good and bad; and this the Jews did die, and no doubt good men among them too, at the siege and taking of Jerusalem by the Chaldean army, either by famine, or pestilence, or sword: nor a death of affliction, which the people of God are subject to, as well as others; is often their case, and is for their good, and in love, and not wrath: but a spiritual death, which none that are quickened by the Spirit and grace of God ever die; though grace may be low, it is never lost; though saints may be in dead and lifeless frames, and need quickening afresh, yet they are not without the principle of spiritual life; grace in them is a well of living water, springing up to everlasting life; their spiritual life can never fail them, since it is secured in Christ: and much less shall they die the second, or an eternal death; they are ordained to eternal life; Christ is come, and given his flesh for it, that they might have it; it is in his hands for them; they are united to him, and have both the promise and pledge of it: and this may be argued, as by the prophet here, from the eternity of God, art "thou not from everlasting?" he is from everlasting to everlasting, the Ancient of days, that inhabits eternity, is, was, and is to come: therefore "we shall not die"; none of his people shall perish, because he loves them with an everlasting love; has made an everlasting choice of them; has set up Christ from everlasting as their surety and Saviour; entered into an everlasting covenant with them in Christ; is their everlasting Father, and will be their everlasting portion; is the unchangeable Jehovah, and therefore they shall not be consumed: this may be concluded from their covenant interest in God, "O Lord my God"; they are his peculiar people, given to Christ to be preserved by him, and covenant interest always continues; he that is their God is their God and guide unto death: and also from the holiness of God, "mine holy One"; who has sworn by his holiness to them, and is faithful to his covenant and promise; and is the sanctifier of them, that has sanctified or set them apart for himself; made Christ sanctification to them, and makes them holy by his Spirit and grace, and enables them to persevere in grace and holiness: moreover, this may be understood of the people of the Jews, as a church and nation; who, though they would be carried captive into Babylon, yet would still continue as such, and be returned again as such, and not die, sink, and perish; since the Messiah was to spring from them; and they might be assured of their preservation for that purpose, from the perfections of God, his covenant with them, and their relation to him: nor shall the church of Christ in any age die and perish, though in ever so low a state; a particular church may, but the interest and church of Christ in general, or his spiritual seed, never shall. This is one of the eighteen passages, as Jarchi, Kimchi, and Ben Melech observe, called "Tikkun-Sopherim", the correction of the scribes, of Ezra, and his company; it having been written, in some copies, "thou shall not die"
"thy Word remaineth for ever;'
and so the Syriac version follows the same reading:
O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment: that is, the Chaldeans; either to be judged and punished themselves for their sins, as all wicked Christless sinners are, even righteously foreordained to condemnation for their sins; or rather to be the instruments of punishing the wicked among the Jews; for this purpose were these people ordained in the counsels of God, and raised up in his providence, and constituted a kingdom, and made a powerful nation:
O mighty God; or "rock"
thou hast established them for correction; or "founded"
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity,.... The Lord with his eyes of omniscience beholds all things good and evil, and all men good and bad, with all their actions; but then he does not look upon the sins of men with pleasure and approbation; since they are contrary to his nature, repugnant to his will, and breaches of his righteous law: and though sin in general may be included here, yet there seems to be a particular respect had to the "evil" or injury done by the Chaldeans to the Jews, in invading their land, spoiling their substance, and slaying their persons; and to the "iniquity", labour, or grievance, by which may be meant the oppression and violence the same people exercised upon the inhabitants of Judea; which, though permitted by the Lord, could not be well pleasing in his sight. The Targum interprets it of persons, workers of evil, and workers of the labour of falsehood; see Psalm 5:4,
wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously; the Chaldeans, who dealt treacherously with God, by worshipping idols; and with the Jews, pretending to be their good friends and allies, when they meditated their ruin and destruction; and yet the Lord in his providence seemed to look favourably on these perfidious persons, since they succeeded in all their enterprises: this was stumbling to the prophet, and all good men; and they knew not how, or at least found great difficulty, to reconcile this to the purity and holiness of God, and to his justice and faithfulness; see Jeremiah 12:1,
and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? the comparison does not lie so much personally between Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah the last king of the Jews, whose eyes the king of Babylon put out, and whom he used in a cruel manner; who was, no doubt, comparatively speaking, a more righteous person than the Chaldean monarch was; being not the worst of the kings of Judea, and whose name has the signification of righteousness in it: but rather between the Chaldeans and the Jews; who, though there were many wicked persons among them, yet there were some truly righteous, who fell in the common calamity; and, as to the bulk of them, were a more righteous people, at the worst, than their enemies were, who devoured them, destroyed many with the sword, plundered them of their substance, and carried them captive; and the Lord was silent all this while, said nothing in his providence against them, put no stop to their proceedings; and by his silence seemed to approve of, at least to connive at, what they did; and this the prophet in the name of good men reasons with the Lord about.
And makest men as the fishes of the sea,.... That is, sufferest them to be used as the fishes of the sea, which are easily taken in the net, and are common to everyone; whosoever will may take them up, and kill them, and use them for their food; and which also among themselves are often hardly used, the lesser being devoured by the greater; and in like manner the prophet suggests, that the people of the Jews, who were men made after the image of God, and made for society and usefulness, and moreover were God's covenant people; and it might have been expected, that a more special providence would have attended them, more than other men, and especially than what attended the fishes of the sea; yet it looked as if there were no more care taken of them than of these:
as the creeping things that have no ruler over them; not the creeping things of the earth, but of the water, the lesser sort of fishes that move in the water; or those that more properly creep, as crabs, prawns, and shrimps; see Psalm 104:25 who have none to protect and defend them, and restrain others from taking and hurting them: this may seem contrary to what Aristotle
They take up all of them with the angle,.... The prophet continues the metaphor of fishing, and observes the different ways of taking fish; which is to be applied to the case he is speaking of: as fishermen take all they can with their angles, so "they" or "he", for it is in the singular number, Nebuchadnezzar and his army, take up all out of the sea of the world; are ambitious of getting all kingdoms and nations of the world under their power and dominion; particularly all Judea, and all the inhabitants of it, good and bad, without any distinction; for all were fish which came to their net: this may design the artful and alluring methods they first made use of to get the people into their hands, by making covenants with them, and drawing them into making of presents, and paying of tribute:
they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag; with the angle the fisherman catches fish one by one, but with the net great numbers; and what he misses by throwing the net, he gets by using the drag; all which may be expressive of the ways and methods used by the king of Babylon and his army, both in the times of Jeconiah, and of Zedekiah; under the former he used the net, and carried off large numbers, and with them the royal family and great substance, but left many behind; under the latter he came and swept away all, drained the land of its riches and its inhabitants:
therefore they rejoice and are glad; as fishermen do when they have good sport; so these people rejoiced in their own success, and in the calamities of their neighbours.
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag,.... Either to their idols, to fortune and the stars, as Aben Ezra; imagining they gave them success, and prospered them in the arts and methods they used: or to their arms, as the Targum; nor was it unusual with the Heathens to worship their spears, sacrifice to them, and swear by them
Because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous: that is, by their angle, net, and drag; or by those things signified by them, the arts and methods they used to subdue nations, conquer kingdoms, and bring them into subjection to them; they enlarged their dominions, increased their riches and revenues, and had plenty of everything that was desirable for food and raiment, for pleasure and profit; or to gratify the most unbounded ambition, having everything that heart could wish for and desire: the allusion is to making sumptuous feasts, and rich banquets, on occasion of victories obtained.
Shall they therefore empty their net,.... Or "thus", after this manner, so Noldius; as fishermen do, when they have had a good cast, and a large draught, spread the net, and take out the fishes, in order to throw it again, and catch more; and so it is asked, should these Chaldeans, when they have conquered one nation, and so filled their net or themselves with the spoil, carry it to Babylon, and there lay it up, and then proceed to fight against another kingdom and nation, and plunder it in like manner?
and not spare continually to slay the nations? the inhabitants of them one after another, and subdue them under them, and make themselves master of all their treasure, until they are arrived to universal monarchy by such cruel and unmerciful methods. The Targum is,
"shall he send his armies continually to consume nations, and that without mercy?'
This the prophet proposes in the name of the whole body of the Lord's people, and leaves it with him to have an answer to it, which is given in the following chapter Habakkuk 2:1.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter