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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Habakkuk 1

Verse 1

The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.

The burden - The prophetic sentence.

Verses 2-3

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

O Lord, how long shall I cry ... even cry out unto thee of violence ... Why dost thou show me iniquity?

Similar language is used of the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 1:9; Habakkuk 1:13) as hero is used of the Jews: implying that as the Jews sinned by violence and injustice, so they should be punished by violence and injustice (Proverbs 1:31). Jehoiakim's reign was marked by injustice, treachery, and bloodshed (Jeremiah 22:3; Jeremiah 22:13-17). Therefore the Chaldeans should be sent to deal with him and his nobles according to their dealings with others (Habakkuk 1:6; Habakkuk 1:10-11; Habakkuk 1:17). Compare Jeremiah's expostulation with Yahweh, Jeremiah 12:1, "Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee, yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: wherefore doth the way of the racked prosper?" Jeremiah 20:8; and Job 19:7-8.

Why dost thou ... cause me to behold grievance? Drusius and Maurer deny that the Hebrew verb [ tabiyT (H5027)] is ever active. Translate, '(Wherefore) dost thou behold (without doing aught to check it) grievance?' The context favours the English version. But the omission of 'me,' which the English version supplies, favours the translation, "Why dost thou behold grievance" (without interposing to punish it)? In Habakkuk 1:5 Yahweh replies, though seemingly now an unconcerned spectator of grievance, "Behold ... I will work a work in your days which ye will not believe, though it be told you."

And there are that raise up strife and contention - so Calvin. But Maurer translates, 'there is strife, and contention raises itself.' In the English version the relative 'that' is to be understood-literally, 'there is (he that) raiseth up strife and contention.' In Maurer and Henderson's view the active Hebrew verb [ yisaa' (H5375)] is taken intransitively of exalting or raising one's self, as in Hos. 12:15 (Hebrew Bible); or Hab. 13:1 (the English version Bible). Others avoid even the latter license, by understanding the verb impersonally '(one) raiseth up contention.' The collocation of the words in the Hebrew sentence favours this view [ wayªhiy (H1961) riyb (H7379) uwmaadown (H4066) yisaa' (H5375)].

Verse 4

Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

Therefore - because thou dost suffer such crimes to go unpunished.

The law is slacked - is chilled [ taapuwg (H6313)]. It has no authority, and secures no respect.

And judgment doth never go forth - "judgment," justice.

Wrong judgment proceedeth - decisions are given contrary to right.

Verse 5

Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.

Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work. Here Yahweh replies to Habakkuk's complaint (Habakkuk 1:2), Though I do not punish violence and wrong immediately, it is not that I am an unconcerned spectator; in my own good time I will work a work of vengeance upon the transgressors past all that could be expected (cf. Isaiah 29:14, "Behold I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder"). Quoted by Paul (Acts 13:41, "Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you").

... Among the heathen. In Acts 13:41, "ye despisers," from the Septuagint So the Syriac and Arabic versions; perhaps from a different Hebrew reading. [Some conjecture that for bagowyim (H1471) the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic read bogªdiym]. Pococke supposes a root [baagaa'], to be haughty. But all our Hebrew manuscripts support the English version reading here. The seeming variation is to be accounted for thus: In the English version reading of Habakkuk, God, in reply to the prophet's expostulation, addresses the Jews as about to be punished, "Behold ye among the pagan (with whom ye deserve to be classed, and by whom ye shall be punished as 'despisers;' the sense implied, which Paul expresses): learn from them what ye refused to learn from me." For "wonder marvelously," Paul, in Acts 13:41, has, "wonder and perish," which gives the sense, not the literal wording of the Hebrew, 'wonder, wonder' - i:e., be overwhelmed in wonder. The despisers are to be given up to their own stupefaction, and so perish.

Which ye will not believe, though it be told you. Herein the unbelief of the Jews is reproved: unbelieving as ye are, ye will not credit the announcement of coming vengeance, which shall exceed all your conception. But at last you will know to your cost, and believe in spite of yourselves, that I have spoken the truth. The Israelite unbelievers would not credit the prophecy as to the fearfulness of the destruction to be done by the Chaldeans, nor afterward the deliverance promised from that nation. So, analogously, in Paul's day, the Jews would not credit the prediction of awful judgment coming on them by the Romans, nor the proclamation of salvation through Jesus. Thus the same Scripture applied to both.

Ye will not believe, though it be told you - i:e., ye will not believe, now that I foretell it.

Verse 6

For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.

For, lo, I raise up - not referring to God's having brought the Chaldeans from their original seats to Babylonia (note, Isaiah 23:13); for they had already been upwards of twenty years (namely, ever since Nabopolassar's era) in political power there; but to His being about now to raise them up as the instruments of God's "work" of judgment on the Jews (2 Chronicles 36:6, "Against him (Jehoiakim) came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon"). The Hebrew [ meeqiym (H6965)] is future, 'I will raise up.'

The Chaldeans, that bitter - i:e., cruel (Jeremiah 50:42, "A great nation, and many kings shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth: they shall hold the bow and the lance: they are cruel, and will not show mercy," etc.; cf. margin, Judges 18:25, "angry," bitter of soul; 2 Samuel 17:8, "chafed in their minds," bitter of soul).

And hasty - not passionate, but 'impetuous.'

Verse 7

They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.

Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves - i:e., they recognize no judge save themselves, and they get for themselves and keep their own "dignity," without needing others' help. It will be vain for the Jews to complain of their tyrannical judgments; for whatever the Chaldeans decree they will do according to their own will: they will not brook any one attempting to interfere.

Verse 8

Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.

Their horses also are swifter than the leopards. Oppian ('Cyneg.' 3:76) says of the leopard, 'It runs most swiftly straight on: you would fancy it was flying through the air.'

And are more fierce - rather, 'more keen;' literally, sharp.

Than the evening wolves - wolves famished with fasting all day, and so most keen in attacking the fold under covert of the approaching night (Jeremiah 5:6; Zephaniah 3:3, "Her judges are evening wolves; cf. Genesis 49:27). Hence, twilight is termed, in Arabic and Persian, the wolf's tail; and in French, entre chien et loup.

And their horsemen shall spread themselves - proudly [paashuw, from puwsh (H6335), to grow proud]; as in Jeremiah 50:11, and Malachi 4:2, the same Hebrew word implies, growing in strength and vigour. So also the Arabic cognate word (Maurer).

And their horsemen shall come from far - and yet are not wearied by the long journey.

Verse 9

They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.

They shall come all for violence - the sole object of all is, not to establish just rights, but to get all they can by violence.

Their faces shall sup up as the east wind - i:e., they shall, as it were, swallow up all before them; so the horse, in Job 39:24, is said to "swallow the ground with fierceness and rage" [from gamaa', to swallow up]. Maurer takes the Hebrew [ mªgamat (H4041)] from an Arabic root, 'the desire of their faces' - i:e., the eager desire expressed by their faces. Henderson, with Symmachus and the Syriac, translates, 'the aspect,' from an Arabic root, 'that which appears externally of anything.' Gesenius and Ludovicus de Dieu take it from the root [gamam] akin to the Arabic for multitude: 'their multitude of faces.'

As the east wind - the Simoom, which spreads devastation wherever it passes (Isaiah 27:8, "He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind"). Gesenius translates [qariymaah], '(is) forwards.' The rendering proposed, Eastward, as if it referred to the Chaldeans' return home Eastward from Judea, laden with spoils, is improbable. Their "gathering the sand" accords with the Simoom being meant, as it carries with it whirlwinds of sand collected in the desert. The parallelism seems to me best sustained throughout by the English version. Though the Hebrew is more commonly used in the sense Eastward; yet the Hebrew letter appended [he (-h)] does not always mean direction toward, but is a more expanded form of the simple word [ qaadiym (H6921)], east wind.

Verse 10

And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.

And they shall scoff at the kings - as unable to resist them.

They shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it - "they shall heap" earth-mounds outside, and so "take every strong hold" (cf. 2 Samuel 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32). (Grotius.)

Verse 11

Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.

Then - when elated by his successes.

Shall his mind change - he shall lose whatever of reason or moderation ever was in him, with pride.

And he shall pass over - all bounds and restraints: his pride preparing the sure way for his destruction (Proverbs 16:18). The language is very similar to that describing Nebuchadnezzar's "change" from "man's heart" (understanding) to that of a "beast," because of pride (Daniel 4:16; Daniel 4:30-34; see notes there). An undesigned coincidence between the two sacred books, written independently.

And offend, imputing this his power unto his god - (Daniel 5:4). Sacrilegious arrogance, in ascribing to his idol, Bel, the glory that belongs to God (Calvin). Grotius explains, '(saying that) his power is his own, as one who is a god to himself,' (cf. Habakkuk 1:16; and Daniel 3:1-30.) So Maurer, 'He shall offend as one to whom his power is his god' (note, Job 12:6, 'who make a god of their own hand;' Micah 2:1, "They practice it (iniquity), because it is in the power of their hand").

Verse 12

Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.

Art thou not from overlasting. In opposition to the impious deifying of the Chaldeans' power as their god (Maurer, or, as the English version, their attributing of their successes to their idols), the prophet, in an impassioned address to Yahweh, vindicates His being "from everlasting," as contrasted with the Chaldean so-called "god."

O Lord my God, mine Holy One? Habakkuk speaks in the name of his people. God was "the Holy One of Israel," against whom the Chaldean was setting up himself (Isaiah 37:23).

We shall not die - Thou, as being our God, wilt not permit the Chaldeans utterly to destroy us. This reading is one of the 18 called by the Hebrews 'the appointment of the scribes;' the Rabbis think that Ezra and his colleagues corrected the old reading [ lo' (H3808) taamuwt (H4191), 'thou shalt not die', into [ lo' (H3808) namuwt] 'we shall not die,' But there is no authority for the so-called old reading proposed by the Rabbis.

Thou hast ordained them for judgment - i:e., to execute thy judgments.

And, O mighty God - literally, 'O Rock' [ tsuwr (H6696)] (Deuteronomy 32:4, "He is the rock;" margin, Isaiah 26:4, 'In the Lord Yahweh is the Rock of ages').

Thou hast established them for correction - to chastise transgressors (Isaiah 10:5-7, "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger ... howbeit he meaneth not so"). But in using them as His rod for correction, God does not mean that they should deify their own power (Habakkuk 1:11; because their power is from Him, and only for a time); nor that they may destroy utterly His people. However the world is shaken, or man's faith wavers, God remains unshaken as "the Rock of ages."

Verse 13

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil - without being displeased at it.

And canst not look on iniquity - unjust injuries done to thy people. The prophet checks himself from being carried too far in his expostulatory complaint, by putting before himself honourable sentiments of God.

Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously - the Chaldeans, once allies of the Jews, but now their violent oppressors (cf. "treacherous dealers," Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16). Instead of speaking evil against God, he goes to God Himself for the remedy for his perplexity (Psalms 73:11-17).

And holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? - the Chaldean oppresses the Jew, who, with all his faults, is better than his oppressor (cf. Ezekiel 16:51-52).

Verse 14

And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?

And makest men as the fish - i:e., and so, by suffering oppressors to go unpunished, "thou makest men as the fish ... that have no ruler" - i:e., no defender. All may fish in the sea with impunity; so the Chaldeans with impunity afflict thy people, as these have no longer the God of the theocracy, their King, to defend them. Thou reducest men to such a state of anarchy, by wrong going unpunished, as if there was no God. He compares the world to the sea; men to fish; Nebuchadnezzar to a fisherman (Habakkuk 1:15-17).

Verse 15

They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.

They take up all of them - all kinds of fish - i:e., men, as captives, and all other prey that comes in their way.

With the angle - i:e., the hook.

They catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag. Some they take up, as with the hook, one by one; others in shoals, as in a "net" and "drag," or enclosing net.

Therefore - because of their successes.

They rejoice - they glory in their crimes because attended with success (cf. Habakkuk 1:11, "Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over (all bounds of moderation in vain glory) and offend").

Verse 16

Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.

Therefore they sacrifice unto their net - i:e., their arms, power, and military skill, wherewith they gained their victories; instead of to God. Compare Habakkuk 1:11, Maurer's intepretation, 'as one to whom his power is his god.' They idolize themselves for their own cleverness and might (Deuteronomy 8:17; Isaiah 10:13; Isaiah 37:24-25). Because by them - by their net and drag net.

Their portion is fat - image from a banquet: the pray which they have gotten.

Verse 17

Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?

Shall they therefore empty their net? - shall they be allowed without interruption to enjoy the fruits of their violence?

Therefore - seeing that they attribute all their successes to themselves, and not to Thee. The answer to the prophet's question, he by inspiration gives himself in Habakkuk 2:1-20.


(1) The servants of Yahweh are deeply grieved in being constrained to behold violence and iniquity, strife and contention, so prevalent (Habakkuk 1:2-3). But instead of complaining to men, as is the way of the world, they, like the prophet, pour out their sorrows and distress before God, who is "a very present help in time of trouble" (Psalms 46:1).

(2) Where "the law is slacked," there of necessity "wrong judgment proceedeth" (Habakkuk 1:4). The firm maintenance of the law is the security of "the righteous" against "the wicked." In this fallen world much injustice is practiced, even in comparatively well-regulated communities. The children of God, therefore, long for the happy time when the Lord shall come to reign in righteousness, and to judge with equity (Isaiah 11:4). Meantime we must not be impatient because anomalies abound in a world disordered by sin. We must beware of arraigning the justice of God by premature murmurings. Let us only wait believingly, and the Lord, in His own good time, will vindicate His righteousness by terribly punishing the wicked and gloriously delivering His saints.

(3) The Chaldeans, God informs His servant when supplicating before Him, were to be the "bitter" instruments of inflicting vengeance on the guilty Jews. Their past unbelief (Habakkuk 1:5) was soon to give place to stupefied horror at the dreadful judgment which should overwhelm them. As "violence" and "iniquity" were Judea's crying sins (Habakkuk 1:2-3), so, in righteous retribution, "violence" and "iniquity" perpetrated against herself were to be her condign punishment (Habakkuk 1:9; Habakkuk 1:13). "They shall come all for violence," is God's declaration concerning the coming Chaldean invaders. The Jews had "sown the wind," therefore they must "reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7). Their enemies were about to sup up all before them, as the destructive "east wind;" and the elect nation, to whom belonged the promise that its numbers should be "as the sand which is upon the seashore" (Genesis 22:17), was now about to be swept away into captivity "as the sand" carried along before the storm (Habakkuk 1:9).

(4) Here was to be the turning point in Judah's calamity. Babylon's triumph tempted her to overweening pride. Prosperity is the ruin of many. And so it proved to the Chaldeans. Elated with their successes, they "passed over" all bounds of moderation, and took to themselves the glory of "the power" which belongs unto Yahweh alone. This blasphemous self-deifying haughtiness was the signal for their destruction, and for the deliverance of the captive Jews. How many there are who have been humble and thankful in a lowly position, but become puffed up with pride when exalted to a high station! Change of station in such cases too often brings with it a "change" of "mind" for the worse (Habakkuk 1:11).

(5) The Lord's "everlasting" nature (Habakkuk 1:12) is the believer's refuge and consolation amidst present and impending troubles. If we are able to call God in Christ, "My God, mine Holy One," then we may with strong confidence say, "we shall not die," however chastised we may be for a time. Faith shows the believer, amidst his sufferings from men, that these are but the instruments "for correction" in the hands of the "mighty God." Resting on "the Rock" of ages, the saint can feel assured that God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil:" and that, though God "keep silence" (Psalms 50:21) for a time, while "the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he" (Habakkuk 1:13), it will not always, nor even for long, be so.

(6) The world is like a troubled sea with its fish-the weaker therein are devoured by the stronger. The mighty ones use the hook to oppress individuals one by one, the net and the drag to sweep away multitudes. They exult in their success: for crimes which are crowned with success at the time are not though crimes, but matters for boasting. They admire their own cleverness and prowess. Even in lawful successes, how apt we all are virtually to "sacrifice unto our net, and burn incense unto our drag" - that is, to attribute the glory of our prosperity to the intellect and skill employed in attaining success, rather than to the God who alone gives it, and without whom no intellect or might could avail. Let us beware of idolizing self or man. Especially let us beware of exulting in successes obtained by the misery of others. For in the speedily coming judgment those who now pray on others shall be themselves a prey to the "worm that dieth not," and to "the fire that is not quenched."

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.