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CRITICAL NOTES.] Burden] (cf. Nahum 1:1).
Habakkuk 1:2. How] A complaint; wickedness continued long, and God did not interfere.
Habakkuk 1:3. Why] dost thou behold violence without checking it? some; the prophet is permitted to behold iniquity, and this is the reason for his cry. Since God the Holy One will not look upon it in Israel (Numbers 23:21), why should his servant? Raise] A litigious spirit prevailed; none were quietly permitted to enjoy their rights. All was seized by force or perversion of law.
Habakkuk 1:4. Therefore] Because crimes are unpunished. Slacked] Lit. chilled; neither secures obedience nor influence. The word means to relax, to lose strength and vital energy. Forth] Lit. for a permanence, i.e. for ever, as in many other passages, e.g. (Psalms 13:2; Isaiah 13:20) [cf. Keil]. Wrong] Unrighteous verdicts given, and godless men encircle the good.
THE IMPORTUNATE PRAYER.—Habakkuk 1:2
The question asked is this: How long will God suffer his people to pray and still neglect to hear?
I. Until they see the plague of their own hearts. We may be astonished at the sins of others, and wonder at God’s forbearance with them. But we forget that seeds of iniquity dwell in our own hearts and ripen in our own lives. We must feel our sinfulness and humble ourselves in the dust. “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”
II. Until they remove the hindrances which prevent the revival of his work. Many stumbling-blocks are in the way. God can do nothing, and will not hear until they are removed. Ignorance, avarice, and slothfulness—all sins must be forsaken. We must be ready for every duty, be wathchful lest by apathy, selfishness, and unbelief, we hinder the work of God.
III. Until they are willing to give God the glory. We may pray for selfish ends, and withhold what is due to God. If in pride and success we claim the blessing, this will silence devotion. In prayer we often devour that which is holy, and consecrate to our own use that which should be given to God (Proverbs 20:25). We desire to pamper our lusts and feed our own vanity. Wrong in spirit and purpose, we cry, “O Lord, how long?” Learn,
1. Why so many prayers fail.
2. To search your own hearts and purify yourselves before God. We may have earnestness and grief and yet fail. “Though you stretch out your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; and though you make many prayers, I will not hear you [Adapted].
THE LAMENTABLE SIGHT.—Habakkuk 1:2-4
The prophet is permitted to see the great social and national evils of the Jews. Unchecked and encouraged they grow in magnitude and number. He laments, in the name of all the godly among them, that their labours seem in vain, and he is forced to cry bitterly to God for relief.
I. The rights of property were disregarded. “For spoiling and violence are before me.” They robbed one another, and took goods and lands from others. God himself divided the land, established the rights of property, by sacred law fixed bounds to every citizen, and taught him to be content with his lot. When violence of any kind breaks forth in a land its prosperity will soon fade away.
1. This disregard was openly declared. “Before me.” The sins were deeply rooted, and those who committed them cared not who saw them. Modest at first, and afraid of discovery, sinners get bold in their wickedness, and openly and impudently avow them.
2. God seemed to connive at this open disregard. “How long shall I cry?” When God appears to overlook sin and to countenance it by permitting sinners to prosper, it grieves the heart and shakes the faith of good men. They cry to God for a sense of justice and right to prevail. “It is time for thee, Lord, to work.”
II. The spirit of litigation prevailed. “There are that raise up strife and contention.” They were broken up into parties and factions that bit and devoured one another continually. Hatred stirs up strifes of all kinds, domestic, political, and religious. It sets man against his fellow-men and against his God. It disturbs society, promotes crime, and rouses the moral forces of the universe.
“A Trinity there seems of principles,
Which represent and rule created life,—
The love of self, our fellows, and our God” [Festus].
III. The law had lost its authority. “Therefore the law is slacked,” &c. The law of peace and charity and the law of Moses were set at nought. That which was the soul, the heart of political and religious life, ceased to act, like the pulse ceasing to beat. The state of a country may be judged from the authority and influence of its moral laws.
1. The law was first disregarded. Contempt for the word and authority of God opens the door for all wickedness. Neither threatening nor promise will then check in evil courses.
2. Then the law was perverted. “Judgment (justice) doth never go forth.” (a) Wrong decisions were given. “Therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” The law was weak, the magistrates were corrupted, and there was no appeal against injustice. (b) The ties of humanity were broken. “The wicked doth compass about the righteous.” The godly and innocent were surrounded and overcome by men turned into brutes. There was no security for persons or property. “Wickedness,” says Bp. Taylor, “corrupts a man’s reasonings, gives him false principles, and evil measuring of things.” Well, therefore, did the prophet lament and cry to God. “My soul is also sore vexed; but thou, O Lord, how long?”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
1. The minister of God in this prophecy.
(1) By his name, Habakkuk.
(2) By his function, the prophet.
2. The manner how he came by it, vision.
3. The matter of it, the burden. In which two questions are moved—
(1) Why a burden; and
(2), whose burden it is: a burden in respect of the sin punished—of the punishment threatened—of the word of God threatening [Marbury].
1. What the prophet did.
(1) He cried—with intense feeling, with great boldness, with long patience.
(2) He cried to God in perplexity and grief, to stir him in apparent forgetfulness, and remind him of promised goodness.
2. The reason why he did it. For violence, strife, and war in domestic circles, injustice and oppression in courts of law, prevailing without check and without shame.
3. The success he had in doing it.
(1) Thou wilt not hear.
(2) Thou wilt not save. As not hearing is to be imputed to his mercy and patience, so his not saving is to be imputed either to his wisdom, putting his children to the trial of their faith by afflictions, or to his justice, making one of them, who have corrupted their ways, a rod to scourge the other, neither of them being as yet worth the saving till he had humbled them [Adapted from Marbury].
1. Prevalent evils grieve the minds of God’s servants. Like David and Jeremiah, they weep at what they see. It makes them sigh. It is a burden to them.
2. In their grief they fly to God for remedy. They have faith in his power, providence, and purpose. They earnestly pray for justice and truth to prevail, for sin and wickedness to end.
3. But in this course they do not always succeed. God is not unmindful of his promise nor regardless of sin, but his people are not always delivered, and retribution not generally sent in the time they fix. God is holy and just: we are hasty and sinful. “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 wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?”
“Thy God hath said ’tis good for thee
To walk by faith and not by sight.
Take it on trust a little while,
Soon shalt thou read the mystery right,
In the bright sunshine of his smile” [Keble].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Habakkuk 1:1-4. How long. If men look upon some of God’s providential dealings with a mere eye of reason, they will hardly find any sense therein, such their muddle and disorder. But, alas! the wrong side is objected to our eyes, while the right side is presented to the high God of heaven, who knoweth that an admirable order doth result out of this confusion: and what is presented to him at present may, hereafter, be so showed to us as to convince our judgments in the truth thereof [T. Fuller].
Habakkuk 1:5-11]. God’s answer to the complaint. Behold] prophet and people. God is about to act, and they will be terrified at its results (cf. Acts 13:41).
Habakkuk 1:6. Raise] To make incursions and at length conquer Judea (cf. 2 Kings 24, 25). Bitter] i.e. cruel (Jeremiah 50:42; cf. marg. Judges 18:25; 2 Samuel 17:8). Hasty] Rash and impetuous.
Habakkuk 1:7. Their] As they had raised themselves to this dignity so they would permit none to share in their counsels and determinations, but would act in the most arbitrary manner [Henderson].
Habakkuk 1:8. Leopards] which leap seventeen or eighteen feet at a spring. Evening wolves] fasting all day, are keen in hunger and commit ravages on the flocks at night (Genesis 49:27; Jeremiah 5:6). The eagerness of cavalry to plunder would be so great that fatigue in the march would be nothing. Like the flight of an eagle] would they rush along (cf. Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40, and Lamentations 4:19).
Habakkuk 1:9. Violence] Not to administer justice. Faces] Presence. Sup] Swallow all before them. They pass along like a tempestuous wind. Sand] Prisoners gathered like dust by the simoom in the desert.
Habakkuk 1:10. Scoff] Resistance impossible and laughed at. Heap] Heap mounds of earth, according to the usual method of taking a fortress.
THE WONDERFUL WORK.—Habakkuk 1:5
We have in these words an answer to the prophet’s question. God is not an unconcerned spectator. He will vindicate his glory, and unexpected vengeance will fall upon the transgressors.
I. The Work is Divine. “I will work a work.” God hears the complaints of his servants and remembers the taunt of the wicked, who cry, “Where is now their God?” God is the agent, though the heathen execute his judgments. He intends and he carries out; “work a work” in solemnity and power. “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
II. The Work is nigh at hand. “In your days.” That generation would not pass before its accomplishment. Already the clouds blacken: the judgments may be suspended, but will break forth in startling thunder. This evil day cannot be put off. “It is nigh at hand, and not afar off.”
III. The Work is wonderful. “Wonder marvellously.” In its nature it was not common, and in its effects it would be alarming. It would be strange and unparalleled among other nations and in their own history; spectators “among the heathen” would be surprised. “Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:24; Deuteronomy 28:37).
IV. The Work is incredible. “You will not believe, though it be told you.” The Jews did not credit the prediction of such alarming events; accustomed to confide in their cities (Isaiah 31:1; Jeremiah 7:4), and in Egyptian strength, they believed they were too powerful to be overcome. Men now will not believe in the judgments of God, though they loom in the threatenings. They are stupefied by sin, despise the Word of God, and go on until the curse falls upon them. Fearful is the punishment of those who presume upon security in evil. “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.”
V. The Work demands attention. “Behold ye.” The call is solemn and Divine. Behold, since language, the ministry of the prophet, and the complaints of the oppressed, will not do. God will try something else which shall be heard. “I will work,” be patient and silent no longer. Behold, the heathen spectators of their sins will be instruments of their sorrows. This beholding must be attentive; regard, not mere gazing. The matter demands serious and earnest consideration. The overthrow of the Jews is a warning to all, a proof that sin will be fearfully punished if persisted in and the way of escape rejected. “Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to workers of iniquity?”
THE WONDERFUL WORK ACCOMPLISHED.—Habakkuk 1:5-10
We have now a particular description of the calamities to be inflicted. The Chaldeans, in their preparations and dispositions, in their victories and devastations, are exactly set forth, to confirm the truth and display the justice of God. The Jews are repaid in their own coin, and the dreadful judgments are inflicted.
I. In raising up a mighty nation. “For lo, I raise up the Chaldeans,” &c. God never lacks instruments to prosecute his design. He can fetch them from afar and dispose them to his will, though already elated with victory and power.
1. A nation naturally fierce. “That bitter and hasty nation.” They are cruel and impetuous, unmerciful, and resolute in their course. They spare no pains and show no pity. Hopeless is the condition of those who fall into their hands. “They hold the bow and the lance” to brandish before the foe; “they are cruel and will not show mercy.”
2. A nation terribly strong. “They are terrible and dreadful.” They are great in numbers, armed with Divine vengeance, and emboldened by former conquests. By the force of terror and the dread of death they gain submission.
3. A nation blindly covetous. They will not only overcome, but rob the land and “possess the dwellings that are not theirs.” It is not merely to overturn others, they also take their possessions. But the dwellings “are not theirs” by right, only held while God pleases, and then lost again. The rights of society and the interests of others are nothing to the covetous. They fatten on the miseries of men, and consider not that poverty will come upon themselves (Proverbs 18:20-22).
4. A nation proudly ambitious. They roam through the land, violently subdue everything before them, and deport themselves in pride and insolence. They “pass over” in quest of glory to fresh booty and new wars. The mightiest empires have been crushed by the weight of their own greatness. In their own ambitious ends they have gone beyond bounds, and brought their own ruin. When our energies are directed to personal aggrandisement and despotic rule we may expect a fall. “Pride,” says Gurnall, “takes for its motto great I and little you.” “Think not thy own shadow longer than that of others,” says Sir Thomas Browne, “nor delight to take the altitude of thyself.” Ambition and pride are often the precursors of ruin. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
II. In giving them an easy victory. In the figures mentioned, we notice—
1. That the conquest is irresistible. “Their horses are swifter than the leopards,” the lightest, swiftest, and most bloodthirsty of beasts of prey. “They shall fly as the eagle,” hastening to devour what it has secured. “Our persecutors are swifter than eagles of the heavens” (Lamentations 4:19; Ezekiel 17:3).
2. That the conquest is violent. “They shall come all for violence.” The enemy would sweep over them like the east wind, blasting and bearing down everything before it. Gathering the people “as the sand,” and burying them like caravans in heaps of destruction.
3. That the conquest is easy. No opposition will hinder them from performing their work. (a) The power of kings was laughed at. Princes and confederates would be exposed to greatest contempt and most ignominious treatment. Kings will be put down and set up in pleasure and in sport. “They shall scoff at the kings.” (b) The strength of fortifications was derided. Forts and strongholds in which men trust will prove matters of derision to the agents of God’s vengeance. “They shall deride every stronghold.” The mightiest fort will be captured and levelled in the dust. “For they shall heap dust and take it.”
4. That the conquest is complete. “Which shall march through the breadth of the land.” Far and wide they spread terror and death. Unhindered and irresistible they swept over the earth. Kings fled in fear, palaces were plundered with violence, and lands were taken by force. They did as they liked. Their own lust was their law. No power of God or man seemed to limit them in the infliction of judgment upon the Jews, or in getting honour for themselves. God sometimes puts the stubborn and rebellious into the hands of those who measure justice by their own judgment and honour by their own dignity. “Their judgment and their dignity shall come of themselves”—
“The good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can” [Wordsworth].
EVENING WOLVES.—Habakkuk 1:8
Wolves are very fierce when urged to rabidness by a whole day’s hunger. They prowl forth in that darkness in which all the beasts of the forests creep forth (Psalms 104:20). Such is the disposition of some men towards their fellow-creatures. These evening wolves typify—
I. False teachers. False prophets are compared to “ravening wolves,” rapacious, mischievous, and injurious to the flock of God (Matthew 7:15). We are warned against heretics, and false guides, such as Hymenæus, Alexander, and Philetus. “After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).
II. Cruel persecutors. With relentless spite some men pursue others. Christians are wilfully misrepresented in character and conduct; reviled, insulted, and spitefully used (Matthew 5:11). Evil men, as “lions seeking whom they may devour,” pursue them in envy. With keen scent and eager feet they are swift to shed innocent blood. “The assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul.”
III. Anxious cares. The cares of this world devour the good in the heart. Domestic life and business impair the growth of Christian character. Excessive care destroys peace, induces loss of temper, hinders prayer, and hurries into dangerous conduct. “Be careful for nothing.”
IV. Distracting doubts. Doubts and fears distress the mind, hide the light of God’s countenance, and pursue us like evening wolves.
Is worse than to have lost: and to despair,
Is but to antedate those miseries
That must fall on us” [Massinger].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Habakkuk 1:6. He is said to raise up those whom he allows to be stirred up against his people, since the events which his providence permits favours their designs, and it rests with him to withhold them. They lift themselves up for some end of covetousness or pride. But there is a higher order of things in which God orders their actions to fulfil by their iniquities his righteousness [Pusey].
1. God’s hand is seen in furnishing the enemies of his people with all necessary qualifications for carrying on their enterprise. Boldness, swiftness, number, &c.
2. The fierceness of the Divine anger may be read in the celerity and activity with which they execute their designs.
3. It is vain for impenitent sinners to lean upon any apparent ground of security or confidence when God arises to plead with them. Distance of places, extent of country, and strength of buildings will not avail [cf. Hutcheson].
Habakkuk 1:9. Violence. Learn,
1. That God often repays violence with violence.
2. Yet those employed by God to punish others may sin themselves by lust and self-aggrandizement.
East Wind. “The East Wind, it seemeth, was the most unwholesome breath of heaven upon that land; within short time withered and destroyed the fruits of the earth, and the hopes of the spring. The Lord saith that the faces of the Chaldeans, the very sight of them, shall be as baneful and as irresistible as the East Wind.” The cruelties of men, the calamities which attend wars and conquests, ought to invite sinners not to provoke God to give them up to such punishment—to terrify such as fear not the threatenings of the Word, and to point out to those suffering such a lot, the bitterness of departing from God [Hutcheson].
Habakkuk 1:2-11. How utterly incomprehensible are the Judgments of God!
1. Incomprehensible in their delay, to the view of those who have no patience, and think that God ought to act as speedily as their anger prompts them (vers.2, 3).
2. Incomprehensible in their threatening, to those upon whom they will fall, and who nevertheless continue to sin in security (Habakkuk 1:4).
3. Incomprehensible to every human mind in their realization. For—(a) They are greater than any human thought would anticipate (Habakkuk 1:5-6). (b) They take place in ways and by means of which no man would dream (Habakkuk 1:6). (c) They are often brought about by men and events that, at first sight, have nothing in common with God.
4. Incomprehensible in their grandeur and universality, to those by whom they are accomplished (Habakkuk 1:11) [Lange].
God’s deeds are always Niphlaoth, and have on them something to excite wonder and astonishment. Incredible as they seem, we know that they will be performed, from past history, present signs, and the light of God’s Word. How they are to happen is a mystery. It is ours to fear, believe, and obey. Regard the threatening, and escape the danger.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Habakkuk 1:5. Wonder. Others only look and wonder, the Christian only looks and loves [Hurrion].
Habakkuk 1:6-11. Bitter. An envious man waxeth lean with the fatness of his neighbours. Envy is the daughter of pride, the beginner of secret sedition, and the perpetual torment of virtue [Socrates].
Habakkuk 1:7. Dignity. Self-assumed superiority of the Chaldeans. “Every man has just as much vanity as he wants understanding” [Pope].
“They whose wit
Values itself so highly, that to that
All matters else seem weak, can hardly love,
Or take a shape or feeling of affection,
Being so self-endeared” [Shakespeare].
Habakkuk 1:11. Then] Elated by victory. Change] Lit. the wind passes by; the storm of violence like the wind sweeps over the land. Some refer it to the Chaldee nation, who change in mind, lose reason and moderation, and get proud. Power] is their god, or “(saying that) his power is his own, as one who is a god to himself” [Grotius]. Henderson gives—“Then it gaineth fresh spirit; it passeth onward and contracteth guilt, (saying,) Is this his power through his God.”
Habakkuk 1:12.] God now vindicated in opposition to the boast of the enemy. God eternal and holy. Die] The Chaldeans will not destroy, only correct us. Mighty] Lit. Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4). Thou] They are only thy instruments.
Habakkuk 1:13. Look] inactively upon violence. Deal] Chaldeans once allies of the Jews, now violent oppressors (Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16). Right] Bad as Jews were, they were much better than their enemies.
Habakkuk 1:14.] God made his people defenceless as the fish, left them in disorder, and without any to care for them.
Habakkuk 1:15.] The enemy easily catches them and exults in his success.
Habakkuk 1:16. Sacrifice] Idolize their military skill and power by which they gained success. Ancient Scythians offered yearly sacrifices to a sabre set up as a symbol of Mars [Keil].
Habakkuk 1:17. Therefore] shall he empty] Lit. spread his net continually to destroy nations? Empty it and throw it in again for a fresh draught? It is implied that God will not permit such conduct to go unpunished, but the answer is reserved for the sequel.
Habakkuk 1:5-11]. God’s answer to the complaint. Behold] prophet and people. God is about to act, and they will be terrified at its results (cf. Acts 13:41).
SUCCESS ABUSED.—Habakkuk 1:11; Habakkuk 1:16
Elated with success, the Chaldeans pass over all bounds and restraints. In pride and arrogance they attribute all glory to themselves or their gods, deify their own power, and incur the Divine displeasure. They were intoxicated with their success and abused it. Success is abused—
I. When it is over-valued. Men cry, “Nothing succeeds like success,” and aim at it, for its own sake. In anticipation and possession it is over-estimated. It creates pride, and sometimes overturns reason. “The human heart,” says Volney, “is often the victim of the sensations of the moment; success intoxicates it to presumption, and disappointment dejects and terrifies it.”
II. When it is thought to cover sins. If sinful acts are crowned with success, they are considered proofs of prowess, matters of boasting and exultation. The end is thought to justify the means. The Chaldeans rejoiced in conquests gained by the miseries of the Jews, grew haughty and insolent, and prepared themselves for ruin by worshipping their own power. Speed in the wrong direction is construed into providence; favour to sinful projects and success in evil courses are taken as signs of God’s approval. Thus, because God suffers mischief to prosper, men forget their guilt and rejoice in iniquity. But they prosper only to die, and like beasts fatten to fit them for slaughter. Fat may be their portion and plenteous their meat (Habakkuk 1:16), but “he slew the fattest of them” (Psalms 89:31).
III. When it is ascribed to wrong sources. Men render Divine honours to themselves and their idols rather than to God, who alone gives skill and success.
1. They attribute success to idols. “Imputing this his power unto his god.” The Chaldeans ascribed success to Bel and Nebo, and blasphemously argued that because they had conquered his people, Jehovah was inferior to their gods. Ancient Romans deified their standards and arms. Savage nations have made idols of their implements and arrows. There is no truth in that religion which dishonours the true God, and no stability in that prosperity which is attributed to idols. “He shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished” (Daniel 11:36).
2. They attribute success to their own power. “They sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag.” When men deny God, they deify themselves, and adore their own skill. Ajax called his sword his god, and thanked it for all its brave achievements. Belshazzar said, “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14); the Prince of Tyre said, “I am a god” (Ezekiel 28:22); and Antichrist “exalts himself above all that is called God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Nebuchadnezzar was proud of the might of his power, and the Assyrian declared, “By the strength of my hand I did it; and by my wisdom, for I am prudent” (Isaiah 10:13-15). Sad are those events in life which minister pride, and give occasion to men to deprive God of honour and exalt themselves. “He who boasts of a thing,” says Luther, “and is glad and joyous on account of it, but does not thank the true God, makes himself into an idol, gives himself the glory, and does not rejoice in God, but in his own strength and work.”
“To our own nets ne’er bow we down,
Lest on the eternal shore,
The angels, while our draughts they own
Reject us evermore” [Keble].
GOD’S CHARACTER A GROUND OF CONSOLATION IN DISTRESS.—Habakkuk 1:13
The prophet turns again to God in sublime contrast to the deifying of human power—vindicates the character of Jehovah as opposed to idols, and declares entire confidence in him as the true ground of consolation in distress—“Art thou not from everlasting?” &c.
I. God is Eternal. Go back as far as possible in thought, God was before thought. In the beginning God. “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” Hence,
1. God is unchangeable in his purpose. He is a rock firm and immovable. From the eternity of his nature the prophet infers the eternity of his purpose. “My God.” He has delivered in the past, and will deliver in the present and in the future (2 Corinthians 1:10). Whatever changes he never changes. His people lay hold of his covenant, claim a special interest and express a strong hope in it. “Therefore we shall not die.”
1. Temporally we shall not die. God will reserve a remnant of the Jews to return from captivity to the land of their fathers, to build his temple and enlarge his Church. 2. Spiritually we shall not die. He will keep his promise, and we shall not lose an interest in a better life.
3. Eternally we shall not die. God having loved once will love to the end—will never cast off his people. In eternal wisdom God hath given eternal redemption, and an eternal inheritance.
2. God is unchangeable in his providence. The prophet might be distressed at the description of the enemy—the condition of his people might perplex and seem to contradict the covenant, but present judgment was only temporary chastisement. Their enemies would not destroy, but only correct them. The rod was in the hands of God. Because God lived, they would live (John 14:19). Men might be wicked, cruel, and perverse, but he was always the same. Clouds may hide the light, but do not destroy the sun. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” &c.
“Now thou array’st thine awful face
In angry frowns, without a smile;
We, through the cloud, believe thy grace,
Secure of thy compassion still.”
II. God is holy. “Mine Holy One.” The prophet implores God as an individual and in the name of Israel. God in a special manner separated them from other nations, avowed and adopted them as his own. He therefore takes special interest in them, and will exercise special mercy towards them (Hosea 11:9). The chastisement of the enemy confirmed his holiness and purified his people. The victorious heathen were unholy, imputed power to idols, but he was the Holy One of Israel whom they reproached (Isaiah 37:23). God’s holiness then is—
1. A guarantee of punishment to sin.
2. Of deliverance to his people: and,
3. Of justice and right to all men. Among his people, or in the wicked, God will not leave sin unpunished. “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
GOD DOES NOT APPROVE OF SIN.—Habakkuk 1:13
Men are tempted to think it is vain to serve God, when he permits the wicked to triumph over them. True views of God will check such thoughts. He cannot look upon sin with approbation. His eyes are too pure to behold evil and connive at it. We infer from this that God is holy, and will certainly punish sin.
I. The testimony of Scripture proves this. From beginning to end it sets forth the holiness of God. In rite and ceremony, in precept and doctrine, its constant voice is heard, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
II. The testimony of Providence proves this. In the expulsion of angels from heaven and our first parents from Eden—in floods and fire—in the history of Israel, and in the punishment of the wicked. We see justice written in actions, and God’s abhorrence of sin in the judgments he has inflicted. Evil may array itself in wit and grandeur, or in villany and success, but it is always the abominable thing which the Lord hates. Its perpetrators are hated, and will be punished by him. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”
THE ENIGMAS OF LIFE.—Habakkuk 1:13-17
Troubled thoughts are not easily driven away. Circumstances arise in which perplexities increase—in which God’s conduct seems at variance with his Word, and in which God’s people find it difficult or impossible to solve the enigmas of life. The prophet seemed astonished, and expostulated with God at his proceedings against the Jews by the Chaldeans. “Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously,” &c.
I. Why does God permit his people whom he loves to be persecuted? Why do the enemies who blaspheme thy name, deal cruelly and perfidiously with thy people?
1. They are devoured. “The wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he.” This has always been the lot of God’s people, from the days of Abel to the present time. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But this cruelty was great. They were hunted and devoured like prey.
2. They are destroyed. God permitted the weaker to be taken by the stronger. They were caught like fish in the sea, crushed like reptiles in the dust. They had no defender to protect nor avenge them. God was silent and held his tongue. This seems strange to those who trust in God. To punish the wicked may be the will of God, but to strike at the righteous is treason. Why then does God permit this? How can he love them? If God has fixed the times for executing his purposes why does he hide them from his people (Job 24:1)? “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?”
II. Why does God, who is holy, permit sinners to prosper in wickedness? “Wherefore lookest thou,” &c.
1. Wickedness exulting over goodness. Rejoicing in its work of mischief and destruction. Men glory in their crimes.
2. Wickedness idolizing itself. “They sacrifice unto their own net.” Coarse forms of idolatry spring from a corrupt mind. When the idol is first set up in the heart, men will not be long before they worship their wealth and wisdom, their armies and navies.
3. Wickedness apparently perpetual. The enemy had gathered immense booty, and was rejoicing over it. They had caught the Jews like fish in a net. Will they devour what they have taken? Will they empty the net again, and unceasingly go on without check or punishment? asks the prophet. How perplexing were these things to his mind. They have been perplexing to the good in every age. The abnormal state of the world is a sore puzzle to most men. Ovid was tempted to say there were no gods. Brutus condemned virtue entirely when defeated, and Pompey declared that a mist had come over the eyes of Providence, when overcome by Cæsar. Thus men charge God foolishly. The Psalmist solved the problem in nearness to God (Psalms 73:17)—saw that this life was only a state of trial and probation. Things may stagger the godly now, for we are brutish in knowledge, impatient in spirit, and incapable of comprehending God’s plans. Wait patiently, all will be cleared up before the great tribunal. “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
“Fixed to the hold, so might the sailor aim,
To judge the pilot, and the steerage blame,
As we direct to God what should belong,
Or say that Sovereign Wisdom governs wrong.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Habakkuk 1:12. Notice,
1. The grievous affliction of God’s people. They were ready to die, oppressed, and almost annihilated.
2. The Divine appointment of this affliction. “Thou hast ordained them for judgment.” The enemy had no power over Israel but what God gave them. Hence the affliction was
(1) Appointed in measure.
(2) Appointed in duration.
(3) Appointed in instrumentality. All power is derived from God, and is under his control (Psalms 17:14). Men are in his hands, cannot destroy his people, nor frustrate his design.
3. The blessed design of this affliction. “Thou hast established them for correction.” Not for vengeance, not for their own ends and pleasure; but for correction. This correction is needed, and should be expected. “As threshing separates the corn from the chaff,” says Burton, “so does affliction purify virtue.” Michael Angelo saw in the rude block an angel form, and with a sculptor’s skill carved the image and revealed its beauty; so God “rough hews” his people, forms and fashions them by affliction into his likeness. “Blessed is he whom thou chastenest.”
4. The vigorous hope under this affliction. “We shall not die.” On the unchanging character and the eternal covenant of God, we ground our hope of deliverance, and our belief in the perpetuity of his Church. “Virtue,” says Dr. Moore, “can stand its ground as long as life; so that a soul well principled will be sooner separated than subdued.” “The Lord hath chastened me sore; but he hath not given me over unto death.” “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Let us thank God for discipline, and kiss the rod which smites us. It is not the stroke of a tyrant, but the chastening of a Father.
“Such sharpness shows the sweetest Friend,
Such cuttings rather heal than rend.”
The three titles of God in this verse are significant. “The God to whom the prophet prays is Jehovah, the absolutely constant One, who is always the same in word and work (see Genesis 2:4); he is also Elohai, my, i.e. Israel’s God, who from time immemorial has proved to the people whom he had chosen as his possession, that he is their God; and the Holy One of Israel, the absolutely Pure One, who cannot look upon evil, and therefore cannot endure that the wicked should devour the righteous” [Keil].
Habakkuk 1:14-15. The two figures (fish and reptiles) indicate the low and helpless condition of the Jews. The world is like a troubled sea, the weaker are caught and devoured by the stronger—the more venomous hurt and destroy the rest. Notice also the agencies of cruelty.
1. The angle;
2. The net; and
3. The drag. “Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans are a faint image of Satan, who casts out his baits and his nets in the stormy sea of this life, taking some by individual craft, sweeping others in whole masses to do evil; and whoso hath no ruler, and will not have Christ to reign over them, he allures, hurries, drags away as his prey” [Pusey].
Habakkuk 1:15-16. Notice,
1. The instruments of wickedness.
2. The success of wickedness.
3. The insolence of wickedness. “Here is the growth of iniquity; for first they exercise all cruel inhumanity against the Jews, then they rejoice over them, and then doth the sin grow out of measure sinful, for they forbear not to provoke God himself by their pride of heart, robbing him of the glory of his own work, and ascribing it to themselves” [Marbury].
The career of a great conqueror has something intoxicating. Before Napoleon men degraded themselves and became idolaters. The sin of the world-power is two-fold; first, it deals with the property of God as if it were its own; secondly, it does not honour God for the success granted to it, but its own power [Lange].
1. The question—“Shall they?”
2. From whence the answer. (a) reason? (b) philosophy? (c) experience? (d) it must be left where the Psalmist leaves it (Psalms 74:22).
3. The right attitude in ch. 2.
Habakkuk 1:13-17. There is a limit set to the power of the wicked.
1. God is holy.
2. But the work of the wicked is unholy. For, (a) It is a work of hatred against the righteous. (b) It is an abuse of the powers bestowed by God. (c) It does nothing for God, but everything for itself (Habakkuk 1:15). (d) It does not give God honour, but makes itself an idol (Habakkuk 1:16).
3. Therefore it must have an end (Habakkuk 1:17) [Lange].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Habakkuk 1:12-17. Let us at all times cherish in our minds an unrelaxing certainty, that we shall always find the Almighty perfect in his justice to all, and in everything, and individually to each of us, as soon as we have sufficient knowledge of his operations with respect to us. Let us wait with patience until what we do not perceive or cannot comprehend shall be satisfactorily elucidated to us. We expect this equity in our intercourse with each other. Let us also so conduct ourselves, in all our thoughts and feelings with reference to Him, whatever may be his present or future dispensations personally to ourselves [Turner].
Shall they? Providence is often mysterious and a source of perplexity to us. Walking in Hyde Park one day, I saw a piece of paper on the grass. I picked it up; it was a part of a letter; the beginning was wanting, the end was not there: I could make nothing of it. Such is providence. You cannot see beginning or end, only a part. When you can see the whole, then the mystery will be unveiled. [Thomas Jones, 1871].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26