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Bible Commentaries
Habakkuk 1

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verse 1

Hab 1:1

INTRODUCTION . . . Habakkuk 1:1

Habakkuk introduces his written prophecy in words calculated to establish it as authentically from God. Translated “oracle” as often as burden, the introductory noun of verse one is a technical term to describe prophecy. Cp. Isaiah 13:1, Jeremiah 23:33-40, Zechariah 9:1, Malachi 1:1) The prophet saw what he was about to write as a vision. (Cp. Amos 1:1, Micah 1:1). One must either accept the prophecy as God’s written word or reject it as the hallucination of a madman. Since history has long since proven its accuracy, the former seems more likely!

Zerr: See Nahum 1:1 For comments on the word burden. Habakkuk was given something to say and it was to be written in this book.

Questions

How Can God Allow Injustice to Go Unpunished?

1. Habakkuk’s opening words are calculated to established what?

2. What is the significance of Habakkuk’s use of the name “Jehovah?”

3. What caused Habakkuk to ask the first of his two questions?

4. What is God’s answer? Summarize.

5. Who were the Chaldeans?

6. Why were the Chaldeans named here when it was Babylon who would chastise Judah?

7. What king of Judah died in the vain attempt to preserve Assyria against Babylon?

8. How does Jehovah describe the Chaldeans? (Habakkuk 1:7-11)

9. What do you know of the religion of the Babylonian empire of Habakkuk’s concern?

Verses 2-4

Hab 1:2-4

THE FIRST QUESTION . . . Habakkuk 1:2-4

The prophet addresses God, significantly by the name “Jehovah,” revealed at the beginning of Israel’s national existence. During the days of the patriarchs it was unknown. (cf. Exodus 6:3) At that time He was called El Shaddai. (cf. Genesis 17:1) Habakkuk’s use of Yaweh, or Jehovah, here seems calculated to imply that God is neglecting a nation to whom He owes special concern.

HOW LONG SHALL I CRY . . . Habakkuk 1:2

We usually phrase the question differently, “How can God allow . . . etc.” Habakkuk says “How long.” How long will God allow . . . etc. The thought is the same. If God is God, and we are His people . . . how, or how long can He allow us to suffer at the hands of unrighteous men or an unrighteous governmental system such as ruled Judah in the days of the prophet? For a detailed discussion of the specific conditions that caused the prophet to so cry to God, read Amos or Micah. These wrote earlier, but the situation in Judah has not changed since they wrote, excepting perhaps to get progressively worse. Those who sought evil gain for themselves at the expense of their neighbors did not desist at Micah’s warning of destruction.

Those who built the luxury of their metropolitan affluence upon the blood of the downtrodden had not repented at the preaching of the earlier prophets. The drunkenness and excesses of the wealthy and powerful had not diminished since the Shepherd of Tekoah expressed his shock and predicted God’s punishment.

Habakkuk’s question is simply “why doesn’t God do something about the situation?” He has more courage than we moderns. He addresses his questions directly to God Himself. He accuses God of not hearing when he prays. His prayers have lifted the specific skis of violence before God. In return he sees more and more of that about which he has prayed.

Zerr: The prophet laments the corruption and violence that were being practiced by the people of Judah (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk was not responsible for the wickedness of his people but he felt a personal interest in their fate. Thou wilt not save means that Judah had gone too far in her abominable course to be spared the judgment of God. Why dost thou show me iniquity? (Habakkuk 1:3) is a continuation of the prophet’s lament at the low ebb of spirituality among his people. He specifies some of the evils that the nation was committing; violence and strife and contentlon. The law is slacked (Habakkuk 1:4) means that the people had become careless or even positively disobedient regarding His requirements. The wicked doth compass about the righteous was true In more than one sense. The wicked leaders hindered those who would have been righteously carrying out the Law. AIso, the leaders’ wicked conduct in general was so bad that it covered up or counteracted what things they did that would have otherwise been acceptable.

Questions

How Can God Allow Injustice to Go Unpunished?

1. Habakkuk’s opening words are calculated to established what?

2. What is the significance of Habakkuk’s use of the name “Jehovah?”

3. What caused Habakkuk to ask the first of his two questions?

4. What is God’s answer? Summarize.

5. Who were the Chaldeans?

6. Why were the Chaldeans named here when it was Babylon who would chastise Judah?

7. What king of Judah died in the vain attempt to preserve Assyria against Babylon?

8. How does Jehovah describe the Chaldeans? (Habakkuk 1:7-11)

9. What do you know of the religion of the Babylonian empire of Habakkuk’s concern?

Verses 5-11

Hab 1:5-11

JEHOVAH’S ANSWER . . . Habakkuk 1:5-11

LO, I RAISE UP THE CHALDEANS . . . Habakkuk 1:5-6

Jehovah’s answer is not what the prophet expected. The answer to such prayers seldom is! Rather than magically producing Utopia for the nation by miraculously wiping out all the sin and injustice, God challenges Habakkuk to take a good look at the world situation . . . to consider the nations that lay beyond the border of Judah. The answer to the prophet’s question lies beyond his narrow horizons. Just as the question is larger than one man or a single nation so is the answer.

It is easy to overlook a very basic principle which is apparent again and again in Scripture. The principle is simply that God is the God of the whole world. He is not an absentee creator who has gone away and left us after having set certain forces and laws in operation. Nor is He the local God of Judah alone. Centuries after Habakkuk, Paul will tell the wisest men of his day, “. . . He made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons (times) and the bond (boundaries) of their habitation . . .” (Acts 17:26) This Jehovah of Judah is the God of all nations. He is Lord, not just of a single nation, but of all human history. Therefore, the answer to questions that plague all men are to be found in the larger arena of international and world activity, rather than in the confines of local self-concerns. If we believed this, we would have missionaries in every corner of the globe.

So wide in scope and so universal in application is God’s answer to injustice and social exploitation, that He tells the prophet, “I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it be told you For lo, I raise up the Chaldeans . . .” The Chaldeans were a Semitic tribe from the south of Babylonia. Galling under the yoke of Assyria, they revolted in 625 B.C against seemingly insuperable odds, and freed themselves from Assyrian domination. In alliance with the Medes and Scythians, they demolished the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 B.C. (See Nahum) As rulers of the Neo-Babylonian empire, the Chaldeans soon broke off the alliance with the Medes.

In 609 B.C. the Baylonian army defeated Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo and broke the back of the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance. King Josiah died in this battle in a vain attempt to aid the declining Assyrian empire. (Cf. 2 Kings 23:29-30) Three years later the final defeat of Assyria came at Carchemish when Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians in a decisive encounter with Assyria and Egypt. Cf. Jeremiah 46:2) Having cast her lot with the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance, Judah soon fell prey to Babylonian domination. In 597 B.C Nebuchadnezzar dismembered Judah. He destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C.

It is this that Jehovah foretells in answer to Habakkuk’s first question. Significantly, the Chaldean dominated Neo-Babylonian empire virtually began with the subjugation of Judah and ended when Cyrus, the Persian, in 539 B.C overthrew the capital and decreed freedom for the Jews. God had prepared the Chaldeans (whose empire Babylon was) to redress His grievances with His people. This done, God raised up Cyrus to wipe out Babylon. We shall see latter how this came about in answer to Habakkuk’s second question.

Zerr: Some prophecIes in the Bible had a twofold bearing, or were destined to be fulfilled twice, and Habakkuk 1:5 is one of them. It first refers to the marvelous work of the Lord in which the heathen were to behold the judgment of God against his nation. Not believe, though told. They would rush heedlessly on in their evil course although they had been plainly and authoritatively told about it. The same kind of experience was threatening in Paul’s day as he cites it in Acts 13:41. The Chaldeans were a special race of people who got in the lead in the land or Babylon (Habakkuk 1:6), hence the terms Chaldeans and Babylonians are used in the same sense. From Habakkuk 1:6-11 is a prediction of the great captivity that God was going to bring upon Judah. Hasty is from a word that is defined "prompt" in the lexicon. The Chaldeans were prompt in their movemenls, especially when they were induced thereto by bitterness as they were against Judah. They were to come through the land of God’s people and take possession of the whole country.

THEY ARE TERRIBLE AND DREADFUL . . . Habakkuk 1:7-11

Here begins Jehovah’s description to Habakkuk of the empire He is raising up to punish Judah. We need to read these verses not so much for the details, although they are vividly accurate, but for the overall impression the description made upon Habakkuk. Keeping the prophet’s question in mind, we must agree with Jehovah’s statement that He is working a work Habakkuk will not believe. (Habakkuk 1:5) Modern man also refuses to believe a just God of love will do such things!

The Chaldeans are described as irresistible in power and military methods. Wherever they went there was havoc. They were famous for swift cavalry. Their bent for conquest would become the scourge of the earth. Kings and castles, to whom others looked for defense, were to them a laughing stock. They captured cities as easily as throwing up a mound of earth and advancing over it. Ominously, one of their chief characteristics was the taking of numberless slaves. The Neo-Babylonians were essentially a commercial people, and one of their chief commodities was human chattel. Prices ranged from $20 to $65 for a woman and from $5 to $100 for a man, and the traffic was strictly controlled by law.

Zerr: Dreadful (Habakkuk 1:7) is from the same original word as "reverend" in Psalms 111:9 where it is applied to the name of God. It shows us therefore that many words in the Bible are to be interpreted according to the connection In which they are used. Shall proceed of themselves means the Chaldeans were independent in disposition and followed their own inclination regardless of all others. The horse was a prominent means ot warfare in ancient times (Habakkuk 1:8), both for the drawing ot chariots and carrying of cavalrymen. The Chaldeans possessed some of the finest specimens of that noble creature. Evening wolves is a figure denoting the viciousness with which they would lunge into battle. A wolf that had been fasting through the day would be hungry and ravenous by evening. The fact is used to illustrate the activities of the Chaldeans when their cavalry operated in the battle. Fly as the eagle is another figure of speech that means the same as the above comments. The pronouns "they" and "their" stand for the Chaldeans (or Babylonians) who will be using the horses in the action. Shall come for violence (Habakkuk 1:9) means that when these forces come against Judah it will be with the intention of getting what they want even if they have to use violence in getting it. Sup up is from one word and it is explained in the lexicon to mean "to accumulate by impulse." Gather as the sand indicates that the Chaldean army will sweep all before it as the east wind would drive the sand ahead of it and pile it up in great heaps. The gist of Habakkuk 1:10 is that the Chaldean army will have no fear of kings or other men in official position. They will be treated as if they were only a heap of sand that had been drifted by the east wind. Change (Habakkuk 1:11) means to be active and move promptly toward the objective. Offend is from ASHAM and defined by Strong, "To be guilty," The thought is that, though the Chaldean army was to be the instrument in God’s hand in this great event, yet they will make a serious mistake in giving the credit for their achievement to their god.

Babylonian slavery is of particular interest to us, for it was into this that Nebuchadnezzar led Judah. Female slaves belonged to their masters completely and most of them bore many children for their masters. All of a slave’s belongings were his master’s. He could himself be sold at any moment or pledged for a debt. He could be put to death if it seemed good business to his owner. A reward for his capture was set by law, should he try to escape. He was subject to military conscription and for forced labor on roads. Most of the exquisite cities, especially Babylon herself, were erected by slave labor. A slave might marry a free woman, and their children’s freedom was guaranteed by law. He might be set up in business by his master, as indeed many of the Jews did, and liberated as a reward for faithful service.

The religion of Babylon has already been described in the introductory chapter on Baal worship. This despicable idolatry which earned for Babylon the name “Mother of Harlots,” finds its roots in the earliest history of the “land of Nimrod.” It flourished in the age of Babylon’s great lawyer, Hammurabi (2123-2081 B.C.) and spread like a cancer round the fertile crescent, to Asia Minor, Greece and finally Rome. It seeped into northern Europe, and after the fall of Rome, when the Roman Catholic religio-political monolith ruled over the European dark ages . . . the saints and idols and even the lord to whom Europe prayed was not the covenant God of the Bible or His Son, but the reincarnation of Babylonian deities. As Will Durant so clearly states in his Story of Civilization, “Ishtar (the mother of Babylon’s gods) interests us not only as analogue of the Egyptian Isis and protoype of the Grecian Aphrodite and the Roman Venus, but as formal beneficiary of one of the strongest Babylonian customs . . . and though her worshippers repeatedly addressed her as “The Virgin,” “The Holy Virgin” and ‘The Virgin Mother,” this merely meant that her amours were free from all taint of wedlock. Note with what fervor the Babylonians could lift up to her throne litanies of laudation only less splendid than those which a tender piety once raised to the Mother of God.” (Italics mine)

Such was the religion and such were its worshippers whom God raised up to punish His people for their failure to keep His covenant and for the social immorality which existed among them because they because they turned to the same gods.

Habakkuk’s first question is answered! Jehovah will not long tolerate the evils that repel the prophet. He will raise up one of the most wicked nations in history to punish them.

Questions

How Can God Allow Injustice to Go Unpunished?

1. Habakkuk’s opening words are calculated to established what?

2. What is the significance of Habakkuk’s use of the name “Jehovah?”

3. What caused Habakkuk to ask the first of his two questions?

4. What is God’s answer? Summarize.

5. Who were the Chaldeans?

6. Why were the Chaldeans named here when it was Babylon who would chastise Judah?

7. What king of Judah died in the vain attempt to preserve Assyria against Babylon?

8. How does Jehovah describe the Chaldeans? (Habakkuk 1:7-11)

9. What do you know of the religion of the Babylonian empire of Habakkuk’s concern?

Verses 12-17

Hab 1:12-17

THE SECOND QUESTION

Habakkuk 1:12-17

O JEHOVAH, MY GOD, MY HOLY ONE . . . Habakkuk 1:12(a)

God had warned Habakkuk he would not believe the answer to his question. (Habakkuk 1:5) The prophet, upon hearing Jehovah’s description of the Chaldeans whom He is raising up to punish the sins of Judah, recoils in shocked horror and incredulity. The first half of Habakkuk 1:12 is, to the prophet, a rhetorical question. It answers itself in the asking of it. Jehovah is from everlasting! He is the God of Israel’s prophets! He is Holy! Therefore, His people shall not die. Here is the most succinct statement in all the Bible of the gross misconception the Jews had of their relationship to God. Their major premise, i.e. the everlasting holy nature of God is correct, but their false conclusion, i.e. that they, as a people, could not, therefore, die was based on a minor premise of their own devising!

In The Story of the Jew Briefly Told, published by Bloch Publishing Company with Jewish confirmation manual, Dr. Maurice H. Harris says, “It took centuries to grasp the concepts that God is wholly spirit and without material form, that He is the sole ruler of the universe, not sharing this power with other divinities; that He is omniscient, Omnipresent, and eternal; that He is absolutely righteous and just in dealing with His children—not favoring Israel more than other people, though they were the first to recognize Him.” (Italics mine) Dr. Harris here places his finger on the problems of both the nation of Judah and the prophet Habakkuk. The first question asked by the prophet grew out of circumstances fostered by the failure of the people to understand that “. . . God is wholly spirit and without material form, that He is the sole Ruler of the universe . . .” This failure allowed the Jews again and ‘again to fall into the worship of Baal. (See the discussion of Micah.)

The second question posed by the prophet (Habakkuk 1:12) resulted from their failure to understand that God “. . . is absolutely righteous and just in dealing with His children—not favoring Israel more than other people . . .”

Zerr: Dropping the predictions of the captivity and the characteristics of the Babylonians, the prophet addresses the Lord on behalf ot the people of Israel (Habakkuk 1:12). He draws a contrast between Him and the Babylonian army. The latter was a mighty force but was destined to be overthrown. But the Lord is from everlasting and will be able to care for His people even though they are suffered to go into captivity. We shall not die means that Judah will not cease to be although she must be severely punished. It was ordained that they have the experience of judgment for the purpose of correction.

Nahum’s question to Nineveh on the eve of her doom was “Art thou better than No-Amon . . . ?” (Nahum 3:8) As we saw in our study of Nahum, No-Amon, the capital of Egypt, had been devastated by the Assyrians. Nahum would have the Ninevites know they are no better and hence no more assured of national survival than No-Amon. Had someone asked this same question of Judah on the eve of the Babylonian captivity, or of Habakkuk when he entered into his debate with God concerning God’s use of the Chaldeans to punish Judah, both the nation and the prophet would have answered a resounding, “Yes!” They believed they were better.

If their superiority over other people was not evidenced in their unfaithfulness or their moral corruption, they believed that God’s past dealings with their father’s proved it. They were mistaken. John the Baptist, centuries later, challenged the same attitude. (Cf. Luke 3:7-9) The fundamental Jewish error is a misunderstanding, not only of the nature of God, but as well a misunderstanding of a doctrine which runs through both the Old and New Testaments. It is often called the “doctrine of Election.” (We suggest just here that the reader review the chapters on the covenant in the introductory section and also my book, Thus It Is Written, College Press.)

This doctrine, that God is calling out of every kindred and race of man a people for His own possession, is inherent in the unfolding inspired interpretation of the work of God in history and makes up the bulk of the Old Testament Scripture. It is the entire burden of the Luke-Acts narrative and comes in for a detailed analysis in the writings of Paul, especially Ephesians, Romans, and Galatians. The Jews “were made a heritage of God, having been foreordained according to the plan of Him who effects all things according to the council of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11) This plan of God, which is the mystery hidden in times past to be revealed in Christ through the church, (Ephesians 3:1-16), never included the Jews or the nation of Israel simply for their own sakes or as an end in themselves.

God chooses whom He will e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, et al. His choice is made not primarily from the standpoint of its advantage to the chosen. Nor is His choice, even in the Old Testament, limited only to the physical descendants of Abraham. Paul illustrates this truth in Romans 9:14 by referring to Exodus 9:16. There God says to the Egyptian Pharaoh (who was anything but a Jew), “For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in the earth.” In a similar vein, Jehovah might well have made a similar statement to the Chaldeans. (Habakkuk 1:6)

The perversion of the Biblical doctrine of election reaches its climax in those who commit themselves to a “dispensationalism” which makes the Jew per se the center of God’s concern, both in the Bible and in the age to come. Such people believe about the Jew exactly what the Jew came to believe about himself. This belief blinds men to the revealed purpose of God’s intervention in human history. The point is, of course, that the elect or more accurately the called of God, whether individuals or nations, are never chosen for their own sakes merely, but that they are rather called to participate in God’s eternal plan to offer the blessings of Abraham to all mankind.

O JEHOVAH . . . O ROCK . . . Habakkuk 1:12(B)

Habakkuk does not doubt God for a moment. Difficult as it is for him to accept the idea that God should raise up such as the Chaldeans to judge His people, the prophet immediately concedes: “Thou hast ordained him (the Chaldeans, particularly Nebuchadnezzar) and thou . . . hast established him for correction.” We must also not fail to recognize Habakkuk’s conviction that God’s people could not be wiped out is related to his understanding, quite correctly, that God is Himself eternal. His error was in identifying that people with a race and a nation, and in objecting to God’s use of another nation and race to bring about His purposes.

The term “O Rock” applied to Jehovah is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 32:4 His use of it reflects Habakkuk’s conviction that God’s work is perfect . . . His ways are just, even though they are beyond the prophet’s own understanding. Indeed, it is precisely because of what he knows about God, coupled with his Jewish nationalism that has caused him to so question Jehovah.

THOU THAT ART OF PURER EYES . . . Habakkuk 1:13

Habakkuk knows God to be a pure God who cannot tolerate the presence of evil in His sight. Whatever else the Word teaches about God, it certainly affirms this truth, from Eden to Calvary. How, then, the prophet asks, can such a God look on such perversiveness as is present among the Chaldeans? Why will He look on Babylon’s destruction of Judah and hold His peace? His bias shows through when he asserts that the Jews of his day are more righteous than the Babylonians.

Two fallacies should be recognized at this point. First, Jehovah, in revealing His intention to raise up the Chaldeans against Judah, did not say He would overlook Babylon’s evil. Divinely recorded history proves He did, in fact, no such thing. Secondly, the insistence that Judah is more righteous than the Babylonians raises a moot question. They had adopted the Baal worship which originated in the Chaldeas. They had been unfaithful to Jehovah when they were the only people on earth who had His written word. Their behavior had consequently become so corrupt that it was the very reason God chose to raise up a pagan people to smite them.

Zerr: Behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13) is said in the sense of approving it, and looking on iniquity is used in the same sense. God actually sees everything that is going on but He does not favor the evil. The latter part of the verse represents the anxiety of the prophet over the situation. He is more impatient than the Lord, and seems to think that He should deal more harshly with the wicked and treacherous enemy.

HE MAKEST MEN AS FISHES . . . Habakkuk 1:14-17

The prophet reinforces his argument by changing his emphasis from the holy nature of God to the unholy nature of the Chaldeans’ treatment of people He first says that the incursion of the Chaldeans causes confusion. Like a school of fish or a swarm of insects, those struck by Babylon are left purposeless and leaderless. Then, in the confusion, the Chaldeans capture slaves like catching fish with various nets and devices. It was indeed the practice of Nebuchadnezzar to lead away to slavery those who were the leaders of a conquered people. As we say, Micah promised that exactly this would happen. The practice, according to Micah, was God’s device to punish those whose leadership had corrupted the nation. In Habakkuk 1:16, Habakkuk adds that the success of the Chaldeans is the force of their own skill and power (rather than dependence upon God). They idolize themselves because of this (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:17, cp. Isaiah 10:13; Isaiah 37:24-25). To Habakkuk this is further evidence that Jehovah cannot use such a nation against his own people. Furthermore (Habakkuk 1:17), asks the prophet, will there ever be an end to it, if God allows such a people as the Chaleans to succeed against His chosen ones? This argument sounds extremely familiar to us today as we are asked to believe that God cannot control the evil forces of communism if these forces are allowed to prevail against us. Perhaps we, as Habakkuk, need to give serious attention to God’s answer.

Zerr: Habakkuk 1:14 is a further description ot the kind of enemy that the Lord’s people had to endure. Makest men as the fishes of the sea means that the Babylonians had no more regard for men than they did for the dumb creatures. Continuing his figure of the fishes, the prophet represents the Babylonians as dealing with the people of God in the same way they would the fishes (Habakkuk 1:15) which they caught in a net to be consumed upon their own appetites. The net is now used (Habakkuk 1:16) to represent the idolatrous god of the heathen. Since the net had contributed gain to its owners, they concluded that it was a god and worthy to have worship paid to it. The prophet asks in a deploring attitude (Habakkuk 1:17), if the Lord will suffer these heartless fishermen to continue their cruel business. A fisherman empties his net so that he may use it to take more fish. The complaint of the prophet really is a prediction that the enemy (Babylon) will not be permitted to continue the wicked dealing with God’s people.

Questions

The Second Question

1. Show how God’s answer to Habakkuk’s first question gave rise to the second question.

2. State the prophet’s second question in your own words.

3. Show how the Jews’ misconception of themselves as God’s people is reflected in Habakkuk’s second question.

4. What two concepts did the Jews find hard to grasp? (As stated by Dr. Maurice Harris)

5. Show how Nahum’s question to Nineveh (Nahum 3:8) could be asked here of Judah.

6. What do you understand is the Biblical doctrine of “election?”

7. How does dispensationalism pervert the doctrine of election?

8. What word more accurately states the idea of election?

9. What is implied by Habakkuk’s use of the term “O Rock” in reference to Jehovah?

10. What two fallacies combine to confuse Habakkuk in reference to God’s purity and Babylon’s impurity?

11. Describe the activity of the Babylonians toward neighboring nations.

12. In a sentence, what is Jehovah’s answer to Habakkuk’s second question?

13. List the five woes with which God gives His answer.

14. Show how these woes describe eternal principles in God’s dealing with nations in history.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Habakkuk 1". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/habakkuk-1.html.
 
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