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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Habakkuk 1

Verses 1-17

Habakkuk 1

(Vv. 1-4). In the opening verses we learn the prophet's anguish of soul as he confesses to the LORD the low condition of the people of God. His spirit is troubled, not simply by the wickedness of the nations, but on account of the evil amongst the people of God. In the very circle which should have been marked by gentleness and righteousness, peace and concord, he sees violence and corruption, strife and contention.

Moreover he sees that there is no power amongst the people of God to deal with the evil. They fail to use the word of God, for he has to admit that " the law is powerless, and justice doth never go forth." The wicked are in ascendancy, therefore any judgments at which they arrive are wrong or perverted (N. Tr.).

Furthermore, judging by outward appearances, it would seem as if the LORD did not hear the cry of the godly, nor save His people from their sorrows.

In the presence of all these sorrows the prophet groans in spirit, for God's word permits of a groan, but never a grumble ( Rom_8:22-27 ). Moreover, the prophet utters his groans to the Lord. Alas! too often there is a tendency with us, as believers, to discuss among ourselves the failures of the people of God in such a spirit of bitterness that the groaning becomes mere grumbling, or complaining as to what God allows in His dealings with His people. Thus complaining words to one another may betray either a lurking spirit of rebellion against God, or an effort to exalt ourselves by belittling others. Good for us, if we escape these snares by pouring out the anguish of our spirits, and the exercises of our souls before the LORD.

(Vv. 5-10). In the verses that follow we have the answer of the LORD to the cry of this anguished soul. This answer brings before us that which has such a prominent place in the prophecy of Habakkuk, - the governmental dealings of God, both with His failing people and an evil world.

God cannot be indifferent to evil. When His people have fallen into a low moral condition, God must either give them up or deal with them in chastening. We live in a day of grace; but grace does not set aside the government of God. As in the days of Habakkuk, the people of God have fallen, and the Church, as a responsible witness for God is ruined; the result being, as the apostle Peter reminds us, "The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" ( 1Pe_4:17 ). This government of God may not take the form of direct intervention, for it is the day of God's longsuffering grace, and Christ is waiting until His enemies be made His footstool. Nevertheless God cannot be indifferent to evil and it remains true that what men sow they reap.

In Habakkuk's day the people of God had fallen, and the nations were marked by violence and corruption. In the midst of these evils the prophet is called to behold God's solemn work of judgment. Behind all that was taking place among men, God was working, and the man of God is to look beyond the works of men to see the work of God (5).

To-day we live in the last days, described by the apostle Paul when professing Christendom is fast sinking to the level of heathenism, as can be clearly seen by a comparison of 2Ti_3:1to5 , with Rom_1:21to32 . In these perilous times it behoves the believer to behold what God is working for the chastening of His people and in the governmental judgment of the world.

In Habakkuk's day God had raised up the Chaldeans for this work of governmental judgment Nevertheless, we are told that such was the low condition of God's people that they would not believe the testimony of God to His own work. They refused to see the hand of God behind their enemies who were being used for their chastisement. We know that the apostle quotes this passage when preaching the gospel at Antioch. There he announced the grace of God that proclaims forgiveness through Christ, and that all that believe are justified from all things. Then immediately he quotes the prophet Habakkuk to warn them against despising the work of grace through unbelief, as their forefathers had despised the work of government through unbelief ( Act_13:41 ).

In spite, however, of the unbelief of man, the work of God, whether in grace or government, goes on. So, in his day, the prophet is told that God had raised up the Babylonians to carry out His work of government. Little did the Babylonians think that they were raised to the pinnacle of power simply to be an instrument in the hand of God to chastise His people and restrain the evils of the nations. Yet so it was in the prophet's day, and so it has been again and again, in the history of the world, when ruthless tyrants. have been allowed for a time to pursue their career of aggression over surrounding nations.

This nation of the Chaldeans is described as a bitter and impetuous nation, marked by cruelty and violence. With aggressive energy they marched through the earth to possess dwelling-places that were not theirs. They inspired terror and dread by their acts of frightfulness, in which they were a law to themselves, having no respect for the customs of the nations. Having sunk below the level of natural men, wild and ferocious animals are used as figures to set forth the inhuman ferocity with which they would prey upon the nations. For a time they would carry all before them; kings and princes would be set aside, and "every stronghold" overturned.

(V. 11). Then, at the height of their conquering career, their mind would change, and, not content with the ruthless destruction of men they would pass on to offend against God. Entirely failing to see that they were only instruments in the hand of God, and puffed up by their own successes, they would reject the true God and set up a god of their own devising, and worship their own power So we know it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the glory of my majesty?" He had to learn, as every other tyrant in the course of history has had to learn, that the God who had raised him up to deal with offenders, will also put him down when he offends against the true God by claiming divine honours for himself.

The prophet has poured out his complaint before the LORD (2-4); and the LORD has met the anguish of his soul by assuring him that behind the "terrible and dreadful" cruelty of the enemy against God's people and the nations, God, Himself, was working a work in governmental chastening (5-11).

In the verses that follow (11-17), we hear the prophet again speaking to the LORD; not as before, to pour out the anguish of his soul because of the low condition of the people of God, but to appeal to God because of the wickedness of those who had been allowed to chasten the people of God. The LORD'S closing words clearly intimated that the wicked nation that had been allowed to over-run the lands of others would end in setting aside the true God and making a false god of their own power.

(V. 12). At once the prophet seizes upon this blasphemy to appeal to God for the judgment of this wicked nation. They may deny the true God, but, asks the prophet, "Art Thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One?" Can God, in consistency with His own glory and holiness, be indifferent to the wickedness of those who defy Him by arrogating to themselves divine powers? Impossible! The prophet bows to what the LORD has said, and confesses that the people of God have come under the chastenings of the LORD for their correction, but, he can add, "We shall not die." If God deals in chastening with His people, it is that they may live in consistency with Himself: if He deals in judgment with His enemies, it is their everlasting destruction according to their own deserts. He sees clearly then, that in spite of the apparently overwhelming successes of the Chaldeans, they were really on the road to judgment, even if, in the meantime, they were being used by God for the judgment of others.

(V. 13). The prophet bases his conclusions, not simply on the wickedness of the enemy, but, on the holiness of God. God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" Will God look on and remain silent when the enemy blasphemes God, deals treacherously with the nations, and acts with greater unrighteousness than those they are being used to chastise?

(Vv. 14-16). This wicked nation was treating men as if they were mere fishes of the sea, or creeping things, that have no ruler to guide or protect them. Having possessed themselves of the weak and helpless, they used them to provide a good portion, and plenty, for themselves. Moreover, their crowning sin is that they make a god of the power by which they have obtained their successes, and thus set aside the true God.

(V. 17). The prophet sums up his plea by asking if they shall be allowed to continue slaying the nations and worshipping their net.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/habakkuk-1.html. 1832.