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§ 5. The prophet, waiting for an answer to his expostulation, is bidden to write the oracle in plain characters, because its fulfilment is certain.
Habakkuk speaks with himself, and, mindful of his office, waits for the communication which he confidently ex-poets (Jeremiah 33:3). I will stand upon my watch (Isaiah 21:6, Isaiah 21:8). As a watchman goes to a high place to see all around and discern what is coming, so the prophet places himself apart from men, perhaps in some secluded height, in readiness to hear the voice of God and seize the meaning of the coming event. Prophets are called "watchmen" (comp. Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:2, Ezekiel 33:6; Micah 7:4). The tower; i.e. watch tower, either literally or metaphorically, as in the first clause. Septuagint, πέτραν, "rook." What he will say unto me; quid dicatur mihi (Vulgate); τί λαλήσει ἐν ἐμοί, "what he will speak in me". He watches for the inward revelation which God makes to his soul (but see note on Zechariah 2:1). When I am reproved; ad arguentem me (Vulgate); ἐπὶ τὸν ἔλεγχόν μου; rather, to my complaint, referring to his complaint concerning the impunity of sinners (Hab 1:1-17 :18-17). He waits till he hears God's voice within him what answer he shall make to his own complaint, the expostulation which he had offered to God. There is no question here concerning the reproofs which others levelled against him, or concerning any rebuke conveyed to him by God—an impression given by the Anglican Version.
Jehovah answers the prophet's expostulation (Habakkuk 1:12, etc.). Write. That it may remain permanently on record, and that, when it comes to pass, people may believe in the prophet's inspiration (John 13:19; comp. Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 30:2; Revelation 1:11). The vision (see Habakkuk 1:1 : Obadiah 1:1). The word includes the inward revelation as well as the open vision. Upon tables; upon the tables (Deuteronomy 27:8); i.e. certain tablets placed in public places, that all might see and read them (see Isaiah, loc. cit.); Septuagint, εἰς πυξίον, "a boxwood tablet" The summary of what was to be written is given in Habakkuk 2:4. This was to be "made plain," written large and legibly. Septuagint, σαφῶς. That he may run that readeth it. The common explanation of these words, viz. that even the runner, one who hastens by hurriedly, may be able to read it, is not borne out by the Hebrew, which rather means that every one who reads it may run, i.e. read fluently and easily. So Jerome, "Scribere jubetur planius, ut possit lector currere, et nullo impedimento velocitas ejus et legendi cupido teneatur." Henderson, comparing Daniel 12:4, "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased," interprets the clause to signify that whosoever reads the announcement might run and publish it to all within his reach. "' To run,'" he adds, "is equivalent to 'to prophesy' in Jeremiah 23:21," on the principle that those who were charged with a Divine message were to use all despatch in making it known. In the passage of Daniel, "to run to and fro," is explained to mean "to peruse."
For. The reason is given why the oracle is to be committed to writing. Is yet for an (the) appointed time. The vision will not be accomplished immediately, but in the period fixed by God (comp. Daniel 8:17, Daniel 8:19; Daniel 11:27, Daniel 11:35). Others explain, "pointeth to a yet future time." But at the end it shall speak. The verb is literally "breathes," or "pants;" hence the clause is better rendered, and it panteth (equivalent to hasteth) towards the end. The prophecy personified yearns for its fulfilment in "the end," not merely at the destruction of the literal Babylon, but in the time of the end—the last time, the Messianic age, when the world power, typified by Babylon, should be overthrown (see Daniel, loc cit.). And not lie; it deceiveth not; οὐκ εἰς κενόν, "not in vain". It will certainly come to pass. Wait for it. For the vision and its accomplishment. Because it will surely come. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:37) quotes the Septuagint Version of this clause, applying it to the last coming of Messiah Ὅτι (plus ὁ, Hebrew) ἐρχόμενος ἥξει καὶ οὐ μή χρονίσῃ (οὐ χρονιεῖ, Hebrew); so the Vulgate, Veniens veniet, et non tardabit. The original passage does not primarily refer to the coming of Messiah, but as the full and final accomplishment of the prophecy doubtless belongs to that age, it is not a departure from the fundamental idea to see in it a reference hereto. It will not tarry; it will not be behindhand; it will not fail to arrive (Judges 5:28; 2 Samuel 20:5).
§ 6. The great principle is taught that the proud shall not continue, but the just shall live by faith. The prophecy commences with a fundamental thought, applicable to all God's dealings with man. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; literally, behold, puffed up, his soul is not upright in him. This is a description of an evil character (especially of the Chaldean) in opposition to the character delineated in the following hemistich. One who is proud, presumptuous, thinks much of himself, despising others, and is not straightforward and upright before God, shall not live, shall not have a happy, safe life; he carries in himself the seeds of destruction. The result is not expressed in the first hemistich, but may be supplied from the next clause, and, as Knabenbauer suggests, may be inferred from the language in Hebrews 10:38, Hebrews 10:39, where, after quoting the Septuagint rendering of this passage, Ἐὰν ὑποστείληται οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ, the writer adds, "But we are not of them that shrink back (ὑποσταλῆς) unto perdition." Vulgate, Ecce, qui incredulus est, non erit recta anima ejus in semetipso, which seems to confine the statement to the ease of one who doubts God's word. But the just shall live by his faith. The "faith" here spoken of is a loving trust in God, confidence in his promises, resulting in due performance of his will. This hemistich is the antithesis to the former. The proud and perverse, those who wish to be independent of God, shall perish; but, on the other hand, the righteous shall live and be saved through his faith, on the condition that he puts his trust in God. The Hebrew accents forbid the union, "the just by faith," though, of course, no one can be just, righteous, without faith. The passage may be emphasized by rendering, "As to the just, through his faith he shall live." This famous sentence, which St. Paul has used as the basis of his great argument (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; comp. Hebrews 10:38), in its literal and contextual application implies that the righteous man will have perfect trust in God's promises and will be rewarded by being safe in the day of tribulation, with reference to the coming trouble at the hands of the Chaldeans. When the proud, greedy kingdom shall have sunk in ruin, the faithful people shall live secure. But the application is not confined to this circumstance. The promise looks beyond the temporal future of the Chaldeans and Israelites, and unto a reward that is eternal. We see how naturally the principle here enunciated is applied by the apostle to teach the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. The LXX. gives, Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεώς μου ζήσεται i,e. "by faith in me." The Speaker is God. St. Paul omits μου. Habakkuk gathers into one sentence the whole principle of the Law, and indeed all true religion.
§ 7. The character of the Chaldeans in some particulars is intimated. The general proposition in the former hemistich of Habakkuk 2:4 is here applied to the Chaldeans, in striking contrast to the lot of the just in the latter clause. Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine. This should be, And moreover, wine is treacherous. A kind of proverbial saying (Proverbs 20:1). Vulgate, Quomodo vinum potantem decipit. There is no word expressive of comparison in the original, though it may be supplied to complete the sense. The intemperate habits of the Babylonians are well attested (see Daniel 5:3, Daniel 5:4; Quint. Curt; Daniel 5:1, "Babylonii maxime in vinum et quae ebrietatem sequuntur effusi sunt;" comp. Her; 1.191; Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 7.5. 15). They used beth the fermented sap of the palm tree as well as the juice of the grape, the latter chiefly imported from abroad. "The wealthy Babylonians were fond of drinking to excess; their banquets were magnificent, but generally ended in drunkenness". Neither the Septuagint, nor the Syriac, nor the Coptic Version has any mention of wine in this passage. The Septuagint gives, ὁ δὲ κατοιόμενος καὶ καταφρονητής, "the arrogant and the scorner." He is a proud man, neither keepeth he at home; a haughty man, he resteth not. His pride is always impelling him to new raids and conquests. This is quite the character of the later Chaldeans, and is consistent with the latter part of the verse. The comparison, then, is this: As wine raises the spirits and excites men to great efforts which in the end deceive them, so pride rouses these men to go on their insatiate course of conquest, which shall one day prove their ruin. The verb translated "keepeth at home" has the secondary sense of "being decorous;" hence the Vulgate gives, Sic erit vir superbus, et non decorabitur; i.e. as wine first exhilarates and then makes a man contemptible, so pride, which begins by exalting a man, ends by bringing him to ignominy. Others take the verb in the sense of "continueth not," explaining that the destruction of Babylon is here intimated. But what follows makes against this interpretation. The LXX. gives, Ἁνὴρ ἀλαζὼν οὐθὲν μὴ τεράνη, which Jerome, combining with it his own version, paraphrases, "Sic vir superbus non decorabitur, nec voluntatem suam perducet ad finem; et juxta Symmachum, οὐκ εὐπορήσει, hoc est, in rerum omnium erit penuria." Who enlargeth his desire as hell; Hebrew, Sheol. Hell is called insatiable (Proverbs 27:20; Proverbs 30:16; Isaiah 5:14). Is as death, which seizes all creatures and spares none. People; peoples.
§ 8. The destruction of the Babylonians is announced by the mouth of the vanquished nations, who utter five woes against their oppressor. The first woe: for their rapacity.
All these. All the nations and peoples who have been subjugated and barbarously treated by the Babylonians (comp. Isaiah 14:4). A parable. A sententious song (see note on Micah 2:4). A taunting proverb. The Anglican Version combines the two Hebrew words, which stand unconnected, into one notion. So the Vulgate, loquelam aenigmatum. The latter of the two generally means "riddle," "enigma;" the other word (melitzah) is by some translated, "a derisive satirical song," or "an obscure, dark saying;" but, as Keil and Delitzsch have shown, is better understood of a bright, clear, brilliant speech. So the two terms signify "a speech containing enigmas," or a song which has double or ambiguous meanings (comp. Proverbs 1:6). Septuagint, Πρόβλημα εἰς διήγησις, αὐτοῦ. Woe (Nahum 3:1). This is the first of the five "woes," which consist of three verses each, arranged in strophical form. Increaseth that which is not his. He continues to add to his conquests and possessions, which are not his, because they are acquired by injustice and violence. This is the first denunciation of the Chaldeans for their insatiable rapacity. How long? The question comes in interjectionally—How long is this state of things to continue unpunished (comp. Psalms 6:3; Psalms 90:13)? That ladeth himself with thick clay; Septuagint, βαρύνων τὸν κλοιὸν αὐτοῦ στιβαρῶς, "who loadeth his yoke heavily;" Vulgate, aggravat contra se densum lutum. The renderings of the Anglican and Latin Versions signify that the riches and spoils with which the conquerors load themselves are no more than burdens of clay, which are in themselves worthless, and only harass the bearers. The Greek Version seems to point to the weight of the yoke imposed by the Chaldeans on them; but Jerome explains it differently, "Ad hoc tantum saevit ut devoret et iniquitatis et praedarum onere quasi gravissima torque se deprimat." The difficulty lies in the ἄπαξ λεγόμενον abtit, which forms an enigma, or dark saying, because, taken as two words, it might pass current for "thick clay," or "a mass of dirt," while regarded as one word it means "a mass of pledges," "many pledges." That the latter is the signification primarily intended is the view of many modern commentators, who explain the clause thus: The quantity of treasure and booty amassed by the Chaldeans is regarded as a mass of pledges taken from the conquered nations a burden of debt to be discharged one day with heavy retribution. Pusey, "He does in truth increase against himself a strong pledge, whereby not others are debtors to him, but he is a debtor to Almighty God, who careth for the oppressed (Jeremiah 17:11)."
That shall bite thee. As thou hast cruelly treated others, so shall they, like fierce vipers (Jeremiah 8:17), bite thee. Henderson, Delitzsch, Keil, and others see in the word a double entendre connected with the meaning of "lending on interest," so the "biting" would signify "exacting a debt with usury." Such a term for usury is not unknown to classical antiquity; thus (quoted by Henderson) Aristoph; 'Nub.,' 12—
Υπὸ τὴς δαπάνης καὶ τῆς φάτνης καὶ τῶν χρεῶν
"By the expenditure deep bitten,
And by the manger and the debts"
Lucan, 'Phars.,' 1.181," Hinc usura vorax, avidumque in tempore faenus." The "biters" rising up suddenly are the Persians who destroyed the Babylonian power as quickly and as unexpectedly as it had arisen. Vex; literally, shake violently, like διασείσητε (Luke 3:14), or like the violent arrest of a creditor (Matthew 18:28); Septuagint, οἱ ἐπίβουλοί σου, "thy plotters;" Vulgate, lacerantes te. So of the mystic Babylon, her end comes suddenly (Revelation 18:10, Revelation 18:17).
The law of retaliation is asserted. All the remnant of the people (peoples) shall spoil thee. The remnant of the nations subjugated and plundered by the Chaldeans shall rise up against them. The downfall of Babylon was brought about chiefly by the combined forces of Media, Persia, and Elam (Isaiah 21:2; Jeremiah 1:9, etc.); and it is certain that Nebuchadnezzar, at one period of his reign, conquered and annexed Elam; and there is every probability that he warred successfully against Media (see Jeremiah 25:9, Jeremiah 25:25; Judith 1:5, 13, etc.); and doubtless many of the neighbouring tribes, which had suffered under these oppressors, joined in the attack. Because of men's blood. Because of the cruelty and bloodshed of which the Babylonians were guilty. For the violence of (done to) the land, of the city (see Habakkuk 2:17). The statement is general, but with special reference to the Chaldeans' treatment of Judaea and Jerusalem, as in Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 45:4; Jeremiah 51:4, Jeremiah 51:11. Jerome takes "the violence of the land," etc; to mean the wickedness of the Jews themselves, which is to be punished. He is led astray by the Septuagint, which gives, διὰ… ἀσεβείας γῆς, "through … the iniquity of the land."
§ 9. The second woe: for their avarice, violence, and cunning.
That coveteth an evil covetousness to his house; better, gaineth evil gains for his house. The "house" is the royal family or dynasty, as in Habakkuk 2:10; and the Chaldean is denounced for thinking to secure its stability and permanence by amassing godless gains. That he may set his nest on high. This is a figurative expression, denoting security as well as pride and self-confidence (comp. Numbers 24:21; Job 39:27, etc.; Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4), and denotes the various means which the Chaldeans employed to establish and secure their power (comp. Isaiah 14:14). Some see in the words an allusion to the formidable fortifications raised by Nebuchadnezzar for the protection of Babylon, and the wonderful palace erected by him as a royal residence. It is certain that Nebuchadnezzar and other monarchs, after successful expeditions, turned their attention to building and enriching towns, temples, and palaces (see Josephus, 'Cont. Ap.,' 1:19, 7, etc.). From the power of evil; from the hand of evil; i.e. from all calamity.
The very means he took to secure his power shall prove his ruin. Thou hast consulted shame to thy house. By thy measures thou hast really determined upon, devised shame and disgrace for thy family; that is the result of all thy schemes, By cutting off many people (peoples). This is virtually correct. The verb in the present text is in the infinitive, and may depend upon the verb in the first clause. The versions read the past tense, συνεπέρανας, concidisti. So the Chaldee and Syriac. This may be taken as the prophet's explanation of the shameful means employed. Hast sinned against thy soul (Proverbs 8:36; Proverbs 20:2). Thou hast endangered thy own life by provoking retribution. The Greek and Latin Versions have, "Thy soul hath sinned."
Even inanimate things shall raise their voice to denounce the Chaldeans' wickedness. The stone shall cry out of the wall. A proverbial expression to denote the horror with which their cruelty and oppression were regarded; it is particularly appropriate here, as these crimes had been perpetrated in connection with the buildings in which they prided them. selves, and which were raised by the enforced labour of miserable captives and adorned with the fruits of fraud and pillage. Compare another application of the expression in Luke 19:40. Jerome quotes Cicero, 'Orat. pro Marcello,' 10, "Parietes, medius fidius, ut mihi videntur, hujus curiae tibi gratias agere gestiunt, quod brevi tempore futura sit ilia auctoritas in his majorum suorum et suis sedibus". Wordsworth sees a literal fulfilment of these words in the appalling circumstance at Belshazzar's feast, when a hand wrote on the palace wall the doom of Babylon (Daniel 5:1-31.). And the beam out of the timber shall answer it. "The tie beam out of the timber work shall" take up the refrain, and "answer" the stone from the wall. The Hebrew word (Kaphis) rendered "beam" is an ἄπαξ λεγόμενον. It is explained as above by St. Jerome, being referred to a verb meaning "to bind." Thus Symmachus and Theodotion translate it by σύνδεσμος. Henderson and others think it means "a half brick," and Aquila renders it by μᾶζα, "something baked." But we have no evidence that the Babylonians in their sumptuous edifices interlaced timber and half bricks. The LXX. gives, κάνθαρος ἐκ ξύλου, a beetle, a worm, from the wood. Hence, referring to Christ on the cross, St. Ambrose ('Orat. de Obit. Theod.,' 46) writes, "Adoravit ilium qui pependit in ligno, illum inquam qui sicut scarabaeus clamavit, ut persecutoribus suis peccata condonaret." St. Cyril argues that tie beams were called κάνθαροι from their clinging to and supporting wall or roof. Some reason for this supposition is gained by the fact that the word canterius, or cantherius, is used in Latin in the sense of "rafter."
§ 10. The third woe: for founding their power in blood and devastation.
The Chaldeans are denounced for the use they make of the wealth acquired by violence. That buildeth a town with blood (Mic 3:1-12 :19, where see note). They used the riches gained by the murder of conquered nations in enlarging and beautifying their own city. By iniquity. To get means for these buildings, and to carry on their construction, they used injustice and tyranny of every kind. That mercy was not an attribute of Nebuchadnezzar we learn from Daniel's advice to him (Daniel 4:27). The captives and deported inhabitants of conquered countries were used as slaves in these public works (see an illustration of this from Koyunjik, Rawlinson's 'Anc. Men.,' 1:497). What was true of Assyria was no less true of Babylon. Professor Rawlinson (2:528, etc.) tells of the extreme misery and almost entire ruin of subject kingdoms. Not only are lands wasted, cattle and effects carried off, the people punished by the beheading or impalement of hundreds or thousands, but sometimes wholesale deportation of the inhabitants is practised, tons or hundreds of thousands being carried away captive. "The military successes of the Babylonians," he says (3:332), "were accompanied with needless violence, and with outrages not unusual in the East, which the historian must nevertheless regard as at once crimes and follies. The transplantation of conquered races may, perhaps, have been morally defensible, notwithstanding the sufferings which it involved. But the mutilations of prisoners, the weary imprisonments, the massacre of non-combatants, the refinement of cruelty shown in the execution of children before the eyes of their fathers,—these and similar atrocities, which are recorded of the Babylonians, are wholly without excuse, since they did not so much terrify as exasperate the conquered nations, and thus rather endangered than added strength or security to the empire. A savage and inhuman temper is betrayed by these harsh punishments, one that led its possessors to sacrifice interest to vengeance, and the peace of a kingdom to a tiger-like thirst for blood …we cannot be surprised that, when final judgment was denounced against Babylon, it was declared to be sent in a great measure 'because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwelt therein.'"
Is it not of the Lord of hosts? Hath not God ordained that this, about to be mentioned, should be the issue of all this evil splendour? That the people shall labour in the very fire; rather, that the peoples labour for the.fire; i.e. that the Chaldees and such like nations expended all this toil on cities and fortresses only to supply food for fire, which, the prophet sees, will be their end (Isaiah 40:16). Jeremiah (Jeremiah 51:58) applies these and the following words to the destruction of Babylon. This is indeed to weary themselves for very vanity. Babylon, when it was finally taken, was given over to fire and sword (comp. Jeremiah 50:32; Jeremiah 51:30, etc.).
The prophet now gives the reason of the vanity of these human undertakings. For the earth shall be filled, etc. The words are from Isaiah 11:9, with some little alterations (comp. Numbers 14:21). This is cue of the passages which attests "the community of testimony," as it is called, among the prophets. To take a few out of many cases that offer, Isaiah 2:2-4 compared with Micah 4:1-4; Isaiah 13:19-22 with Jer 1:1-19 :39, etc.; Isaiah 52:7 with Nahum 1:15; Jeremiah 49:7-22 with Obadiah 1:1-4; Amos 9:13 with Joel 3:18 (Lodd, 'Doctrine of Scripture,' 1:145). All the earth is to be filled with, and to recognize, the glory of God as manifested in the overthrow of ungodliness; and therefore Babylon, and the world power of which she is a type, must be subdued and perish. This announcement looks forward to the establishment of Messiah's kingdom, which "shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44). We must remember how intimately in the minds of Eastern heathens the prosperity of a nation was connected with its local deities. Nothing in their eyes could show more perfectly the impotence of a god than his failing to protect his worshippers from destruction. The glory of Jehovah and his sovereignty over the earth would be seen and acknowledged in the overthrow of Babylon, the powerful, victorious nation. As the waters cover the sea. As the waters fill the basin of the sea (Genesis 1:22; 1 Kings 7:23, where the great vessel of ablution is called "the sea").
§ 11. The fourth woe: for base and degrading treatment of subject nations.
Not only do the Chaldeans oppress and pillage the peoples, but they expose them to the vilest derision and contumely. The prophet uses figures taken from the conduct produced by intemperance. That giveth his neighbour drink. The Chaldeans behaved to the conquered nations like one who gives his neighbour intoxicating drink to stupefy his faculties and expose him to shame (comp. Habakkuk 2:5). The literal drunkenness of the Chaldeans is not the point here. That puttest thy bottle to him. If this translation is received, the clause is merely a strengthened repetition of the preceding with a sudden change of person. But it may be rendered, "pouring out, or mixing, thy fury," or, as Jerome, "mittens fel suum," "adding thy poison thereto." This last version seems most suitable, introducing a kind of climax, the "poison" being some drug added to increase the intoxicating power. Thus: he gives his neighbour drink, and this drugged, and in the end makes him drunken also. For the second clause the Septuagint gives, ἀνατροπῇ θολερᾷ, subversione turbida and the versions collected by Jerome are only unanimous in differing from one another That thou mayest look on their nakedness. There seems to be an allusion to the case of Noah (Genesis 9:21, etc.); but the figure is meant to show the abject state to which the conquered nations were reduced, when, prostrated by fraud and treachery, they were mocked and spurned and covered with ignominy (comp. Nahum 3:5, Nahum 3:11). So the mystic Babylon is said to have made the nations drink of her cup (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:2; Revelation 18:3).
Just retribution falls on Babylon. Thou art filled with shame for glory. Thou art satiated, indeed, but With shame, not with glory. Thou hast revelled in thy shameless conduct to the defencelses, but this redounds to thy dishonour, and will only add to the disgrace of thy fall The Septuagint joins this clause with part of the following: "Drink thou also fulness of shame for glory." Drink thou also the cup of wrath and retribution. Let thy foreskin be uncovered. Be thou in turn treated with the same ignominy with which thou hast treated others, the figure in Habakkuk 2:15 being here repeated (comp. Lamentations 4:21). It is otherwise translated, "Be thou," or "show thyself, uncircumcised." This, in a Jew's eyes, would be the very climax of degradation. The Vulgate has consopire, from a slightly different reading. The LXX; Καρδία σαλεύθητι καὶ σείσθητι "Be tossed, O my heart, and shaken." The present text is much more appropriate, though the Syriac and Arabic follow the Greek here. The cup of the Lord's right hand. Retributive vengeance is often thus figured (comp. Psalms 60:3; Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15, etc.). Shall be turned unto thee. God himself shall bring round the cup of suffering and vengeance to thee in thy turn, and thou shalt be made to drink it to the dregs, so that shameful spewing (foul shame) shall be on thy glory. The ἅπαξ λεγόμενον kikalon is regarded as an intensive signifying "the utmost ignominy", or as two words, or a compound word, meaning vomitus ignominiae (Vulgate). It was probably used by the prophet to suggest both ideas.
For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee; LXX; ἀσέβεια τοῦ Λιβάνου: iniquitas Libani (Vulgate). It would be plainer if translated, "the violence against," or "practised on, Lebanon," as the sentence refers to the devastation inflicted by the Chaldeans on the forests of Lebanon (comp. Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 37:24). Jerome confines the expression in the text to the demolition of the temple at Jerusalem in the construction of which much cedar was employed; others take Lebanon as a figure for Palestine generally, or for Jerusalem itself; but it is best understood literally. The same devastation which the Chaldeans made in Lebanon shall "cover," overwhelm, and destroy them. And the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid. The introduction of the relative is not required, and the passage may be better translated, And the destruction of beasts made them (others read "thee") afraid. Septuagint, "And the wretchedness of the beasts shall affright thee." Jerome, in his commentary, renders, "Et vastitas animalium opprimet te." The meaning is that the wholesale destruction of the wild animals of Lebanon, occasioned by the operations of the Chaldeans, shall be visited upon this people. They warred not only against men, but against the lower creatures too; and for this retributive punishment awaited them. Because of men's blood, etc. The reason rendered in Habakkuk 2:8 is here repeated. Of the land, etc; means "toward" or "against" the land.
12. The fifth woe: for their idolatry.
The final woe is introduced by an ironical question. The Chaldeans trusted in their gods, and attributed all their success to the divine protection; the prophet asks—What good is this trust? What profiteth the graven image? (comp. Isaiah 44:9, Isaiah 44:10; Jeremiah 2:11). What is the good of all the skill and care that the artist has lavished on the idol? (For "graven" or "molten," see note on Nahum 1:14.) And a (even the) teacher of lies. The idol is so termed because it calls itself God and encourages its worshippers in lying delusions, in entire contrast to Jehovah who is Truth. From some variation in reading the LXX. gives, φαντασίαν ψευδῆ, and Jerome, "imaginem falsam" (comp. Jeremiah 10:14). Trusteth therein. The prophet derides the folly which supposes that the idol has powers denied to the man who made it (Isaiah 29:16). Dumb idols; literally, dumb nothings. So 1 Corinthians 12:2, εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα. There is a paronomasia in the Hebrew, elilim illemim.
The prophet now denounces the folly of the maker and worshipper of idols. With this and the following verses compare the taunts in Isaiah 44:9-20. The wood. From which he carves the image. Awake! Come to my help, as good men pray to the living God (comp. Psalms 35:23; Psa 44:1-26 :28; Isaiah 51:9). Arise, it shall teach! The Hebrew is bettor rendered, Arise! it teach! i.e. shall this teach?—an emphatic question expressing astonishment. Vulgate, Numquid ipse docere poterit? The LXX. paraphrases, καὶ αὐτό ἐστι φαντασία, "and itself is a phantasy." It is laid, over. "It" is again emphatic, as if pointed at with the finger. Hence the Vulgate, Ecce iste coopertus est; and Henderson, "There it is, overlaid," etc. The wooden figure was encased in gold or silver plates (see Isaiah 40:19; Daniel 3:1).
The prophet contrasts the majesty of Jehovah with these dumb and lifeless idols. His holy temple. Not the shrine at Jerusalem, but heaven itself (see Psalms 11:4, and note on Micah 1:2). Let all the earth keep silence before him. Like subjects in the presence of their king, awaiting his judgment and the issue to which all these things tend (comp. Habakkuk 2:14; Psalms 76:8, etc.; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13). Septuagint, Εὀλαβείσθω ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ, κ.τ.λ, "Let all the earth fear before him."
The prophet upon his watch tower.
I. THE OUT LOOKING PROPHET. (Habakkuk 2:1.) Having spread out before Jehovah his complaint, Habakkuk, determined to stand upon his watch tower or station himself upon his fortress, and to look forth to see what Jehovah would speak within him, and what reply in consequence he should give to his own complaint. The words indicate the frame of mind to be cherished and the course of conduct to be pursued by him who would hold communion with and obtain communications from God. There must be:
1. Holy resolution. No soul can come to speaking terms with God without personal effort. Certainly God may speak to men who make no efforts to obtain from him either a hearing or an answer, but in general those only find God who seek him with the whole heart (Psalms 119:2). Prophets frequently received revelations which they had not sought (Genesis 12:7; Exodus 3:2; Exodus 24:1; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:1; Daniel 7:1), but as often the Divine communications were imparted in answer to specific seeking (Genesis 15:13; Exodus 33:18; Daniel 9:2; Acts 10:9) In the same way may God discover himself, disclose his truth, and dispense his grace to individuals, as he did to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-6), without their previous exertions to procure such distinguished favours; but in religion, as in other matters, it is the hand of the diligent that maketh rich (2 Peter 1:10).
2. Spiritual elevation. He. who would commune with God must, like Habakkuk, "stand upon his watch tower, and station himself upon his fortress," not literally and bodily, but figuratively and spiritually. It is not necessary to suppose that Habakkuk went up to any steep and lofty place in order the better to withdraw himself from the noise and bustle of the world, and the more easily to fix his mind on heavenly things and direct his soul's eye Godward. Abraham certainly was on the summit of Moriah when Jehovah appeared to him; Moses was called up to the top of Sinai to meet with God (Exodus 24:1; Exodus 34:2); Jehovah revealed himself to Elijah upon the mount of Horeb (1 Kings 19:11); Balaam went to "an high place" to look out for a revelation from God (Numbers 23:3); the disciples were on the crest of Hermon when Christ was transfigured before them (Matthew 17:1); and even Christ himself spent whole nights in prayer with God among the hills (John 6:15). Local elevation and corporeal isolation may be usefully employed to aid the heart in abstracting itself from mundane things; yet this only is the elevation and isolation that brings the soul in contact with God (Matthew 6:6). When David prayed he retired into the inner chamber of his heart (Psalms 19:14; Psalms 49:3) and lifted up his soul to God (Psalms 25:1).
3. Confident expectation. Habakkuk believed that his prayers and complaints would not pass unattended to by God. He never doubted that God would reply to his supplications and interrogations. So he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). It was David's habit, after directing his prayer to God, to look up expecting an answer (Psalms 5:3), and it ought to be the practice of Christians first to ask in faith (James 1:6), and then to confidently hope for an answer.
4. Patient attention. Though Habakkuk had no doubt as to the fact that God would speak to him, he possessed no assurance either as to the time when or as to the manner in which that speaking would take place. Hence he resolved to possess his soul in patience and keep an attentive outlook. So David waited on and watched for God with patient hope and close observation (Psalms 62:5; Psalms 130:5). So Paul exhorted Christians to "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Many fail to obtain responses from God, because they either are not sufficiently attentive to discern the tokens by which God speaks to his people, or lack the patience to wait till he chooses to break silence.
5. Earnest introspection. The want of this is another frequent cause of failure on the part of those who would but do not hear God speak. Habakkuk understood that if God answered him it would be by his Spirit speaking in him, and that accordingly he required not to watch for "signs" in the firmament, in the earth, or in the sea, but to listen to the secret whisperings that he heard within himself. So David exhorted others to commune with their own hearts upon their bed (as doubtless he himself did), if they would know the mind of God (Psalms 4:4); and Asaph, following his example, observed the same godly practice (Psalms 77:6). While God has furnished lessons for all in the pages of nature and revelation, it is in the domain of the inner man, enlightened by his Word and taught by his Spirit, that his teaching for the individual is to be sought.
II. THE IN SPEAKING GOD. (Verse 2.) Habakkuk had not long to wait for the oracle he expected; and neither would modern petitioners be long without answers were their waiting more like Habakkuk's. Three things were announced to the prophet.
1. That he should receive a vision. Jehovah would not leave his dark problem unsolved, would afford him such a glimpse into the future of the Chaldean power as would effectually dispel all his doubts and tears, would unveil to him the different destinies of the righteous and the wicked in such a way as to enable him calmly to endure until the end; and exactly so has the Christian obtained in the Bible such light upon the mystery of Providence as helps him to look forward to the future for its full solution. The vision about to be granted to Habakkuk was
(1) definite, i.e. for an appointed time, and so is the vision now granted to the Christian for a time as well known to God (though not to the Christian) as any moment in the past has been;
(2) distant, i.e. to be fulfilled after a longer or shorter interval, and so has the day of the clearing up of the mystery of providence for the Christian been "after a long time;" but still
(3) certain, i.e. it would surely come to pass, and so will all that God has revealed in Scripture concerning the different destinies of the righteous and the wicked come to pass. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not God's Word (Matthew 24:35).
2. That he should write the vision. Whether a literal writing upon a tablet (Ewald, Pusey) was intended, as Isaiah (Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 30:8) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:2) were directed to write down the communications received by them from God; or whether it was merely a figurative writing (Hengstenberg, Keil) that was meant, as in the ease of Daniel (Daniel 12:4); the intention manifestly was that Habakkuk should publish the vision he was about to receive—publish it in terms so clear and unambiguous that persons who only gave it a casual glance would have no difficulty in understanding it. This has been done, not with reference to Habakkuk's vision merely, but as regards the whole Bible, which is not only "all plain to him that uuderstandeth" (Proverbs 8:9), but is able to "make wise the simple" (Psalms 19:7), and guide in safety "the wayfaring man, though a fool" (Isaiah 35:8). The object contemplated by the writing (literal or figurative) of Habakkuk's vision was
(1) the comfort of God's people in Judah during the period of waiting that should intervene between then and the day of their enemy's overthrow; and
(2) the interpretation of the vision when the incidents occurred to which it referred. The same purposes are subserved by the Word of God, and especially by those prophetic parts which foretell the destruction of the enemies, and the salvation of the people, of God.
3. That he should wait for the vision. It might be delayed, but it should come. Hence he should possess his soul in patience. So should Christians wait patiently for the coming of the Lord for their final redemption and for the overthrow of all the Church's foes (James 5:8). The contents of the vision are narrated in the verses which follow.
1. The dignity of man, as a being who can converse with God; the condescension of God in that he stoops to talk with man.
2. The duty and the profit of reflection and meditation; the sin and loss of those who never commune with their own hearts.
3. The simplicity of the Bible a testimony to its divinity; had it been man's book it would not have been so easy to understand.
4. The certainty that Scripture prediction will be fulfilled; the expectation of this should comfort the saints; the realization of this will vindicate God.
Habakkuk 2:4, Habakkuk 2:5
The unjust man and the just: a contrast.
I. THEIR CHARACTERS.
1. The unjust man.
(1) Proud or "puffed up" in soul. The heart the seat and source of all sin; pride its origin and essence (Psalms 10:4; Psalms 52:7; Proverbs 16:5; Malachi 4:1). Arrogant haughtiness and self-sufficiency characteristic of the carnal heart (Romans 1:30; Ephesians 4:17). These qualities had marked the Assyrian (Isaiah 10:12), and were to distinguish the Chaldean (Habakkuk 2:5) conqueror. They discover themselves in all who oppose or decline from the spirit of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:2; Philippians 2:3; 3 John 1:9). They will eventually culminate in antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
(2) Wicked or ungodly in life. His soul, being thus puffed up with pride, is not "upright" or "straight" within him; is not free from turning and trickery; does not in its thoughts, feelings, words, and actions adhere to the straight path of integrity, but loves "crooked ways" and devious roads, and thus turns aside unto iniquity (Psalms 125:5). Again true of the Chaldean, whose iniquities—drunkenness, boasting, restless ambition, insatiable lust of conquest, relentless oppression—are specifically enumerated (Habakkuk 2:5), it holds good also of the natural heart and carnal mind (Jeremiah 13:10; 2 Timothy 3:2).
(3) Rejected or "condemned" by God. This implied in the fact that he is not a just or "justified" man.
2. The just man.
(1) Believing in soul. As pride or trust in self is the animating principle of the wicked, so is faith or trust in God that of the good. Faith the root of all moral and spiritual excellence in the soul. As the proud soul stands aloof from God, the humble heart cleaves to God, as "that which is straight, being applied to what is straight, touches and is touched by it everywhere."
(2) Upright in life. As pride leads to disobedience, faith leads to obedience. Hence Paul speaks of "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5), i.e. such obedience as is inspired by faith. The soul that trusts God, walks in his ways, avoids sin, and endeavours to order his conversation aright (Psa 1:1-6 :23; 1 Peter 2:5). Faith and holiness are in the gospel scheme inseparably connected (John 15:8; Romans 2:13; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8).
(3) Accepted by God. Paul in Romans (Romans 1:17), and the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38), by quoting this statement from Habakkuk, teach that the "just" and the "justified" are one—that the just in the Scripture sense of that expression are those legally and spiritually righteous before God.
II. THEIR DESTINIES.
1. That of the unjust—death. Though not stated, this may be inferred.
(1) The soul of which the inward essence is pride and self-sufficiency is destitute of spiritual life, is dead. "Swollen with pride, it shuts out faith, and with it the presence of God" (Pusey); and "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
(2) The man who lives in sin is dead while he liveth (1 Timothy 5:6)—dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and so long as he remains a stranger to the principle of faith which the breath of God's Spirit alone can awaken in the unrenewed, he must continue "dead," i.e. incapable of actions spiritually good.
(3) The sinner not accepted before God is of necessity condemned by God; and to be under condemnation is to be "legally dead."
2. That of the just—life. Not necessarily life physical and temporal, because the "justified" die no less than their neighbours (Hebrews 9:27); but
(1) life legal and judicial—"he that believeth shall never come into condemnation" (John 3:18; John 5:24; Romans 8:1);
(2) life moral and spiritual, which Scripture connects with faith in God and in his Son Christ Jesus as a stream with its fountain, as a tree with its root, as an effect with its cause (Acts 15:9; Act 26:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Galatians 2:20); and
(3) life indestructible and eternal, this being always a quality ascribed to the life which the justified man receives through his faith (John 3:36 John 5:24; Joh 11:26; 1 John 2:25; 1 John 5:11; 1Ti 1:16; 1 Timothy 6:12; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7). All other life but that which Christ bestows is temporal and perishing.
A parable of woes: 1. Woe to the rapacious!
I. THEIR PERSONS IDENTIFIED.
1. The Chaldean nation, in its kings and people, who were animated by a lust of conquest, which impelled them upon wars of aggression.
2. The enemies of the Church of God and of Jesus Christ, whether national or individual, in whom the same spirit dwells as resided in the Babylonian power. God's promises and threatenings in the Bible have almost always a wider sweep and a larger reference than simply to those to whom they were originally addressed.
II. THEIR SIN SPECIFIED. Spoliation, robbery, theft, plunder. A wickedness:
1. Unjust; as all theft is. In heaping up the spoils of plundered nations, the Chaldean was increasing what was not his; and the same is done by those who store up money or goods gotten by fraud or oppression. What men acquire by violence or guile is not theirs. How much of the wealth of modern nations and of private persons is of this character may not be told; to assert that none is may be charity, but is not truth. The practices complained of by James (James 5:4-6) have not bees unknown since his day.
2. Insatiable; as the lust of possession is prone to be. The plundered nations are depicted as asking—How long is this devastating power to go on despoiling peoples weaker than himself? Is his career of rapine never to be arrested? Will his thirst for what belongs to others never be quenched? So "he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). The passion for heaping up ill-gotten gains grows by what it feeds on. Those who determine to enrich themselves at the expense of others seldom know when to stop. Almost never do they cry, "Enough!" till retribution, overtaking them, strips them of all.
3. Vain; as all sin will ultimately prove to be. The foreign property taken by the Chaldean from other nations, the prophet characterizes as "pledges" exacted from them by an unmerciful creditor, perhaps intending thereby to suggest that the Chaldean would be "compelled to disgorge them in due time" (Keil). The idea, true of all man's earthly possessions (Job 1:21)—
"Whate'er we fondly call our own
Belongs to heaven's great Lord;
The blessings lent us for a day
Are soon to be restored,"
—is much more applicable to wealth acquired by fraud or oppression (Jeremiah 17:11). The day will come when, if not by the robbed themselves, by God the rightful Owner of the wealth (Haggai 2:8) and the strong Champion of the oppressed (Psalms 10:18), it will be demanded back with interest (Job 20:15).
III. THEIR PUNISHMENT DESCRIBED.
1. Certain. "Shall not all these take up a parable against him?" The overthrow of the Chaldean is so surely an event of the future that the very nations and peoples he has plundered, or the believing remnant amongst them, will yet raise a derisive song over his miserable and richly merited fall; and just as surely will the rapacious plunderer of others be destroyed, and his destruction be a source of satisfaction to beholders (Proverbs 1:18, Proverbs 1:19).
2. Heavy. The wealth he has stolen from others will be to him as a "burden of thick clay" that will first crush him to the earth, making the heart within him wretched and the spirit sordid and grovelling, and finally sink him into a hopeless and cheerless grave (Ecclesiastes 2:22, Ecclesiastes 2:23; Ecclesiastes 6:2; Psalms 49:14).
3. Sudden. Retribution should fall upon the Chaldean in a moment—his biters should rise up suddenly, and his destroyers wake up as from a sleep to harass him (verse 7); and in such fashion will the end be of "everyone that is greedy of gain and taketh away the life of the owners thereof" (Proverbs 1:19); he may "spend his days in wealth," but "in a moment he shall go down to the grave" (Job 21:13); he may "heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay," but he shall "lie down and not be gathered;" he shall "open his eyes, and behold! he is not" (Job 27:16, Job 27:19).
4. Retributive. The Chaldean should be spoiled by the nations he had spoiled. So will violent and rapacious men reap what themselves have sowed. How often is it seen that money goes as it comes! Acquired by speculation or gambling, it is lost by the same means. He who robs others by violence or fraud not unfrequently is himself robbed by another stronger or craftier than he. "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc. (Galatians 6:7).
1. "Provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17).
2. "Do violence to no man" (Luke 3:14).
3. "If thou do that which is evil, be afraid" (Romans 13:4).
A parable of woes: 2. Woe to the covetous!
I. THEIR AIM.
1. Personal comfort. Suggested by the term "nest," which for the Chaldean meant Babylon with its palaces, and for the individual signifies his mansion or dwelling place (Job 29:18). Josephus ('Ant.,' 10:11, 1) states that Nebuchadnezzar built for himself a palace "to describe the vast height and immense riches of which would be too much fur him (Josephus) to attempt;" and Nebuchadnezzar himself tells us in his inscription that he constructed "a great temple, a house of admiration for men, a lofty pile, a palace of his royalty for the land of Babylon," "a large edifice for the residence of his royalty," and that within it were collected as an adornment "trophies, abundance, royal treasures" ('Records of the Past,' 5:130, etc.). Men who set their hearts on riches mostly do so under the impression that these will add in their comfort and increase their happiness—to them comfort and happiness being synonymous with large, beautiful, and well plenished houses (Psalms 49:11).
2. Social distinction. Pointed at by the word "high," in which notions of elevation and visibility are involved. For one rich man that covets wealth to augment his bodily comfort or mental gratification, then seek it for the lustre in others' eyes it is supposed to give. The upper classes in society are the wealthy; the under or lower classes are the poor. None notice the wise man who is poor (Ecclesiastes 9:16); the rich fool stands upon a pedestal and receives the homage of admiring crowds (Proverbs 14:20). The same delusive standard is employed in estimating the greatness of nations. Wealth is commonly accepted by the world as the true criterion of rank. Rich nations take precedence of poor ones. In God's sight money is the smallest distinction that either country or person can wear.
3. Permanent safety. Stated by the clause, "that he may be delivered from the power [or, 'the hand'] of evil" The Babylonian sovereigns as individuals and as rulers held the delusion that the best defence against personal or national calamity was accumulated treasure (Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 18:11). Nebuchadnezzar in particular used his "evil gain" for the fortification of his metropolis, building around it "the great walls" which his father Nabopolassar had begun but not completed, furnishing these with great gates of ikki and pine woods and coverings of copper, to keep off enemies from the front, and rearing up a tall tower like a mountain, so rendering it, as he supposed, "invincible" ('Records of the Past,' 5:126, etc.). In a like spirit men imagine that "money is a defense" (Ecclesiastes 7:12), and that he who has a large balance at his banker's need fear no evil. But "riches profit not in the day of wrath" (Proverbs 11:4); and just as certainly as Nebuchadnezzar's "eagle's nest" was not beyond the reach of the Persian falconer, so neither will the wicked man's silver and gold be able to deliver him when his end is come (Jeremiah 51:13; Ezekiel 7:19; Zephaniah 1:18).
II. THEIR SIN.
1. Against God. This evident from the nature of the offence, which God's Law condemns (Exodus 20:17), as well as from the evils to which it leads—oppression, pride, self-sufficiency, and self-destruction.
2. Against others. In carrying out its wicked schemes covetousness usually involves others in ruin. It impelled the Chaldean to cut off many peoples. It drives those whom it inspires to deeds of violence, robbery, oppression, and murder (Proverbs 1:19; 1 Timothy 6:10).
3. Against themselves. The covetous burden their own souls with guilt; and so, while professing to seek their own happiness and safety, are in reality accelerating their own misery and destruction.
III. THEIR FATE.
1. Disappointment. Whereas the covetous man expects to set his house on high, he usually ends by involving it in shame (Proverbs 15:27); instead of promoting its stability, as the result of all his scheming he commonly accomplishes its overthrow (Proverbs 11:28).
2. Vengeance. Likening the covetous nation or man to a house builder, the prophet says that "the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it," as it were uniting their voices in a solemn cry to Heaven for vengeance on the avaricious despoiler. Almost literally fulfilled in the history of Belshazzar (Daniel 6:24-28), the words are often verified in the experiences of communities and individuals who are destroyed by that very prosperity in which they have trusted (Proverbs 1:32).
LESSON, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness" (Luke 12:15).
A parable of woes: 3. Woe to the ambitious!
I. THE CRIMINALITY OF THEIR AMBITION.
1. The object aimed at. To build towns and establish cities. Not necessarily a sinful project, unless the motive or the means be bad. City building may have originated in a spirit of defiance against Jehovah (Genesis 4:17), though this is not certain; but cities may be, as they often are, centres and sources of incalculable blessing to mankind. If they help to multiply the forces of evil, they also serve to intensify those of good. Cities promote the good order of society, stimulate intellectual life, increase the privileges, opportunities, and comforts of individuals, and so tend to accelerate the march of civilization, by quickening movements of reform and combining against public evils. Hence, though "God made the country," and "man made the town" (Cowper), it need not be assumed that city founding is against the Divine will—it can hardly be, since he himself has prepared for us a city (Hebrews 11:16). Only as there are cities and cities, so are there diversities in the modes of their construction.
2. The means resorted to. Blood and iniquity. Murder, bloodshed, transportation, and tyranny of every kind the Babylonian sovereigns employed to enrich their capital and strengthen their empire; and one is not sure whether in modern times cities are not sometimes built and kingdoms strengthened by similar methods, viz. by wars of aggression against foreign peoples, and by the enforcement of sinful treaties upon unwilling but weak governments. With regard to individuals, there is no room for doubt that often they build the houses of which a city consists in the way here indicated, if not by bloodshed exactly, at least by iniquity, paying for them by ill-gotten gains, and erecting them by means of under paid labour.
II. THE VANITY OF THEIR AMBITION.
1. The fact of it. They, i.e. the peoples (nations or individuals), who build towns and cities as above described, "labour for the fire" and "weary themselves for vanity;" i.e. exert themselves to erect buildings that the fire will one day consume, and weary themselves in producing structures that will one day be laid in ruins. What is here said about Babylon is true of all earthly things (2 Peter 3:10), and ought to moderate the strength of men's desires in running after them.
2. The certainty of it. It is already determined of the Lord of hosts. It is part of his counsel that permanence shall not attach to anything here below (1 John 2:17), and least of all to the productions of iniquity. Individuals may be allowed to wait for their ultimate overthrow till the day of death or the end of the world, but cities and nations, having no future, are usually visited with doom in the present. The overthrow in time of nations and empires that are built up by bloodshed and iniquity may be safely counted on. Nineveh, Babylon, Rome, are examples.
3. The reason of it. "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God." That is to say, because this is the destiny of the world, the goal towards which all things terrestrial are moving, it is impossible that the ambitious projects of man should be allowed permanently to succeed. All superstructures, however solidly built, must be overthrown, all organizations, however compactly formed, must be broken up, that hinder the advancement of that happy era which Jehovah has promised. Hence the triumph of Babylon will come to an end, and with that the glory of Jehovah will shine forth with a brighter degree of effulgence. Men will see in that a display of Jehovah's character and power never witnessed before. The knowledge of his glory will take a wider sweep and extend over a larger area than before. The same principle demanded the overthrow of Rome, and demands the final destruction of all God's enemies, that the knowledge of his glory may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
1. The sin and folly of ambition.
2. The beauty and wisdom of humility.
A parable of woes: 4. Woe to the insolent!
I. WANTON WICKEDNESS.
1. Symbolically set forth. The image employed is that of giving to one's neighbour drink from a bottle with which "vengeance," "fury," or "wrath," or, according to another interpretation, "poison," has been mixed, in order to intoxicate him, that one might have the devilish enjoyment of looking on his nakedness, as Ham did on that of Noah, or generally of glorying in his shame. To infer from this that the bare act of giving to a neighbour drink is sinful, is not warranted by Scripture (Proverbs 31:6; Ecclesiastes 9:7; 1 Timothy 5:23), and is going beyond the intention of the prophet, who introduces the "picture from life," not as an instance of one sort of wickedness in itself, but as a symbol of another sort of wickedness on the part of the Chaldean. Still, the action selected by the prophet has in it several elements of wickedness which are worthy of consideration. It the mere giving of drink to another is not sinful (Proverbs 31:6), the doing so out of malice ("adding venom or wrath thereto") is, while the sin is aggravated by practising deception in connection therewith ("mixing poison therewith"—"drugging the wine," as the modern phrase is), and intensified further by the motive impelling thereto (to be able to gloat over the neighbour's degradation), and most of all condemned by being done against a neighbour to whom one owes not wrath but love, not casting down but lifting up, not exulting in his shame but rejoicing in his welfare. The words can hardly be construed into a condemnation of those who give and take wine or other drinks in moderation and to the glory of God; but they unquestionably pronounce him guilty in God's sight who deliberately and maliciously makes his fellow man drunk in order to enrich or amuse himself at that fellow man's expense.
2. Historically acted out.
(1) By the Chaldean, who drew the nations of the earth into his power by means of poisoned flatteries Enticed to place themselves beneath his tutelage, these nations ultimately fell into his power, and were by him oppressed, degraded, and insulted.
(2) By modern nations, who to enrich themselves enforce upon weaker tribes treaties and traffic (whether of opium or of strong drink) which lead to their moral enfeeblement.
(3) By private individuals, who for their own gain or pleasure hurl their neighbours with sublime indifference into gulfs of misery and shame.
II. APPROPRIATE PUNISHMENT.
1. Of Divine sending. Jehovah's goblet, of which he had caused the nations to drink, should be handed round to the Chaldeans and other guilty nations and individuals, who should all be compelled to drink of it (Psalms 75:8).
2. Of terrible severity. It should be as shameful as that which the Chaldeans had inflicted upon the nations. It should cause him also to be drunken, and should expose his foreskin to others (cf. Isaiah 47:3). It should cover his glory with shame as when the attire of a drunken man is bespattered with his vomiting. Of sinners generally it is written that "shame shall be the promotion of fools" (Proverbs 3:35).
3. Of retributive character. The wickedness of the Chaldean should return upon his own pate. The violence he had done to Lebanon (the Holy Land or the fair regions of the earth generally) should rebound upon himself. The destruction of the beasts, i.e. practised upon wild animals which, by their incursions, cause men to assemble against them, should crush the Chaldean who had become as a ferocious beast (Pusey); or the destruction inflicted by the Chaldean on the wild beasts of Lebanon and other districts by cutting down the wood thereof for military purposes or for state buildings, should return upon them with avenging fury (Keil). The same law of retribution obtains in the punishment of sinners generally (Matthew 7:2).
1. The sin of drunkenness.
2. The greater sin of making others drunk.
3. The acme of sin, exulting in the moral overthrow of others.
4. The certainty that none of these acts of sin will go unpunished.
5. The fitness that this should be so.
Habakkuk 2:18, Habakkuk 2:19
A parable of woes: 5. Woe to the idolatrous!
I. IDOLATRY AN ABSURDITY. It must ever be so. The notion that any figure fashioned by man out of wood or stone, silver or gold, however carved or gilded, can either be or represent the Infinite and Eternal One, carries the stamp of unreason on the face of it (Psalms 115:4-8; Isaiah 44:19; Jeremiah 10:5).
II. IDOLATRY A FRAUD. Set up as gods, and worshipped as such, graven and molten images are a hideous imposition upon man's credulity, being
(1) lifeless,—"There is no breath at all in the midst of them;"
(2) speechless,—the carved wood and graven stone are Mike "dumb" (1 Corinthians 12:2), and only fools would say to them, "Arise, and teach!"
(3) truthless,—in so far as they can be supposed to impart instruction being veritable "teachers of lies;" and
(4) valueless,—of no use or profit to any one on earth and beneath the sun (Jeremiah 10:5).
III. IDOLATRY A RUINATION. It brings with it a woe upon all who are deluded by it. It entails upon them God's curse (Deuteronomy 27:15) and endless sorrow (Psalms 16:4) and everlasting death (Revelation 21:8).
LESSON. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).
The temple of Jehovah.
I. THE HOLY TEMPLE.
1. Its material dimensions. The universe. "Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24). "The Lord of heaven and earth dwelleth not in temples made with hands," but in that which his own hands have fashioned (Acts 17:24). He "filleth all in all" (Ephesians L 23).
2. Its inner shrine. Heaven, the habitation of his holiness (Deuteronomy 26:15; Isaiah 63:15), his dwelling place (1 Kings 8:43; 2 Chronicles 6:33), the throne of his glory (Psalms 11:4; In. Psalms 66:1), the place of his immediate presence (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15), the abode of the redeemed (Psalms 73:24; Revelation 4:4), his temple proper (Revelation 7:15; Revelation 16:1).
3. Its distinctive designation. Holy, as being the temple of a holy God, which only the holy in spirit can enter, and in which holy services alone can be performed.
II. THE INDWELLING DEITY.
1. His name. Jehovah, the Self-existent and Immutable One. "I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14).
2. His attributes. Omnipresence, since he is in his holy temple (Exodus 20:24; Jeremiah 23:24); omniscience, since all are before him (Psalms 66:7; Proverbs 5:21; Proverbs 15:3).
3. His character. Gracious, since he condescends to receive the homage of worshippers, and to hold communication and correspondence with them.
II. THE SILENT WORSHIPPERS.
1. Their persons. "All the earth;" i.e. all the inhabitants thereof, if all are not as yet (Psalms 74:20; 1 Corinthians 10:20), all ought to be (Exodus 20:3; Exodus 34:14; Matthew 4:10), and all one day will be (Psalms 22:27; Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Revelation 15:4) worshippers of the one living and true God.
2. Their attitude. "Before him"—in his presence, beneath his eye, before his throne, at his footstool. God's worshippers should strive to realize the immediate presence of him whom they worship (Psalms 51:11; Psalms 95:2; Psalms 100:2).
3. Their devotion. "Silence;" expressive of reverence before his majesty (Psalms 89:7), of submission beneath his authority (Psalms 31:2), of trust in his mercy (Psalms 130:5), of expectant waiting for his utterances whether of commandment or promise (Psalms 85:8).
1. That the highest glory of the universe is God's presence in it.
2. That man's truest hope springs from the vicinity of God.
3. That the finest worship may at times be inaudible.
4. That God oftenest speaks to those who are waiting to hear him.
HOMILIES BY S.D. HILLMAN
Waiting for the vision.
In this chapter we have set forth the doom of Babylon. The prophet had given to him glimpses of the future as affecting the adversaries of his people. The Divine voice within him gave assurance that the power of the oppressor should at length be broken. He saw the solution of the dark problem which had perplexed him so much concerning the victory to be gained over his people by the Chaldeans. The triumphing of the wicked should be short, and should be followed by their utter collapse. Yet there would be delay ere this should come to pass. The darkness which brooded over the nation should not be at once dispersed; indeed, it should even become more dense in the working out of the Divine purposes. Defeat must be experienced, the Captivity must be endured, and the faithful and true must suffer in consequence of sins not their own. Still, ultimately, "light should arise," and meanwhile, so long as the gloom continued, it behoved him and his people to trust and not be afraid, assured that in God's time the vision of peace and prosperity should dawn upon them. "Though it tarry, wait for it," etc. (Habakkuk 2:3). The truth suggested is that even the best of men have to experience seasons of darkness—times when everything appears adverse to them, but that it shall not be ever thus with them, that brighter scenes are before them, and that hence their duty in the present is tranquilly and trustfully to wait the development of God's all-wise and gracious purposes. This teaching admits of various applications.
I. TEMPORAL CIRCUMSTANCES. These are not always easy and prosperous. Sources of perplexity may at any moment arise. There may come slackness of trade; new rivals may appear, causing sharp and severe competition; losses may have to be sustained; and in this way, from a variety of causes, "hard times" may have to be passed through. And under such circumstances we should trust and not be afraid, knowing that all our interests are in our loving Father's keeping. He has promised us a sufficiency. "His mercies are not the swift, but they are the sure, mercies of David." We must not be less hopeful and trustful than the little red breast chirping near our window pane, even in the wintry weather. "Behold the fowls of the air," etc. (Matthew 6:26). Then, "though the vision," etc.
II. LIFE'S SORROWS. These have fallen upon men at times with a crushing weight. All has appeared dark; not a ray of light has seemed to penetrate the gloom. Yet still they have found that, whilst the vision of hope has been deferred, it has been realized at last, filling their hearts with holy rapture. Jacob lived long enough to see that neither Joseph nor Benjamin had been really taken from him, and that those circumstances which he regarded as being against him were all designed to work out his lasting good. Elijah cast himself down in the wilderness and slept. And, lo! angel guards attended him and ministered unto him, new supplies of strength were imparted, the sunshine of the Divine favour beamed upon him, and he who thought he ought to die under a lonely tree in the desert was ultimately altogether delivered from experiencing the pangs of the last conflict, and was borne in triumph to the realms of everlasting peace. The Shunammite had her lost child restored; the exiled returned at length with songs unto Zion. The Egyptians painted one of their goddesses as standing upon a rock in the sea, the waves roaring and dashing upon her, and with this motto, "Storms cannot move me." What that painted goddess was in symbol we should seek to be in reality, unmoved and unruffled by the tempests which arise in the sea of life, assured that there awaits us a peaceful and tranquil haven. Then, "though the vision," etc.
III. SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION. The Christian life is not all shadow. It has its sunny as well as its shady side. The good have their seasons of joy—seasons in which, believing, they can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Yet they have also their seasons of depression. There is "the midnight of the soul," when the vision of spiritual light and peace and joy tarries; and it is then their truest wisdom to trust and to wait, assured that in due time God will make them glad by lifting upon them "the light of his countenance." "Who is among you that feareth the Lord?" etc. (Isaiah 50:10); "Though the vision," etc. (Habakkuk 2:3).
IV. CHRISTIAN WORK. The great purpose of this is the deliverance of men from the thraldom of sin. The vision we desire to behold an accomplished reality is that of the dry bones clothed afresh, inspired with life, and standing upon their feet, an exceeding great army, valiant for God and righteousness. But the vision tarries! Spiritual death and desolation reign! What then? Shall we despair? Shall we express doubt as to whether the transformation of the realm of death into a realm of spiritual life shall ever be effected? No; though the vision tarry, we will wait for it, knowing that it will surely come; for "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." So Robert Moffat laboured for years without gaining any converts from heathenism, but at length a few were won, and he commemorated with these the death of Christ. "Our feelings," he wrote, "were such as pen cannot describe. We were as those that dreamed while we realized the promise on which our souls often hung (Psalms 126:6). The hour had arrived on which the whole energies of our souls had been intensely fixed, when we should see a Church, however small, gathered from amongst a people who had so long boasted that neither Jesus nor we his servants should ever see Bechuanas worship and confess him as their King." And so shall the faith and patience of all workers for God be rewarded, since the issue is guaranteed and the harvest home of a regenerated world shall be celebrated amidst rapturous joy.—S.D.H.
Habakkuk 2:4 (last clause)
The life of faith.
There are two forms of life referred to in Scripture—the life of sense, and the life of faith. These differ in their bent (Romans 8:5), and also in the issues to which they tend (Romans 8:13). The sincerely righteous man, "the just," has tested both these. Time was when he lived the former, but, satisfied as to its unreality, he now looks not at the things which are seen, but at those which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). His motto is Galatians 2:20. "The just shall live by his faith." These words are quoted by St. Paul (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11), and also by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:38). The New Testament writers were diligent students of the Old Testament, and we may learn from their example not to treat those more ancient writings as being of comparative unimportance They, however, use this expression of the Prophet Habakkuk in a somewhat different sense from that in which he employed it, and apply it to the exposition and enforcement of the important doctrine of "justification by faith." The thought possessing the mind of the seer was that the righteous man exercises an implicit confidence in God; and adopting this course is preserved and protected, and experiences tranquillity and happiness under every circumstance of life. In reflecting upon his words our attention may appropriately be directed to some of the circumstances in which "the just" may be placed, with a view to indicating how that, under these, their faith in God strengthens and sustains them, and enables them truly to live.
I. "The just shall live by their faith" in times of DECLENSION IN RELIGION. Such declension prevailed in the age to which this prophet belonged. The mournful words with which his prophecy commences indicate this (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Many similar times of declension have risen among the nations, and when the falling away from the true and the right has been widespread. So also has it been with Christian communities. Watchfulness has been neglected, and prayer has been restrained; there has been a lack of the spirit of Christian unity and concord; there has been the fire upon the altar, but, alas? it has been in embers; the lamp has been burning, but it has given only a flickering light. "The just," under such circumstances, are grieved as they view the state of religion around them, but whilst sad at heart in view of such declension and of the way in which it dishonours God, they are also inspired with confidence and hope. Their trust is in him. They know that with him is the residue of the Spirit." Whilst praying the prayer of this prophet, "O Lord, revive thy work" (Habakkuk 3:2), they can also, like him, express this confident assurance, "For the earth shall be filled," etc. (Habakkuk 2:14). And so it comes to pass that in the season of declension in religion, when many around have lost the fervour of their love and loyalty to God and to righteousness, "the just shall live by his faith."
II. "The just shall live by their faith" in times of NATIONAL CALAMITY. Chastisement follows transgressions to nations as well as to individuals. Judah had wandered from God, and, lo! he permitted them to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans; and it was the mission of Habakkuk to foretell the approaching Captivity. National calamities have been experienced by our own people. Sometimes it has come to us in the form of war. The appeal has been made to the arbitrament of the sword; and even although we have been victorious, the triumph has been secured at an enormous sacrifice of life, with all the bitter suffering to survivors thus involved. Or pestilence has prevailed. The destroying angel has swept over the land, sparing neither the old nor the young, and numbering thousands among his victims. And in the midst of these faith grasps the rich promises of God and rests unswervingly on him. Let the Chaldean warriors come on horses swifter than the leopards and more fierce than the evening wolves, let them in bitterness and haste traverse the breadth of the land, resolved to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs, let them scoff at kings and scorn princes and gather the captivity as the sand, still the hearts of the faithful shall be upborne, for in the time of national calamity, and when hearts uncentred from God are breaking, "the just shall live by his faith."
III. LEAVING THE EXACT CONNECTION OF THE TEXT, THE TRUTH CONTAINED IN IT RECEIVES ILLUSTRATION FROM THE VARIED CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE GOOD ARE PLACED HERE. Take the two extremes of prosperity and adversity.
1. Some enjoy great temporal prosperity. The temptations of such are
(4) selfishness, and yielding to which they lack those higher joys and nobler aspirations in which consists the true life.
Walking by faith, the good man is preserved from yielding to the influence of these temptations. Strong in faith, he will see that all his prosperity is to be ascribed to him who giveth power to get wealth, and thus pride will be laid low. Strong in faith, he will realize that there are other treasures, incorruptible and unfading, and with mind and heart directed to the securing of these, he will think less of this world's pomp and vanity and show. Strong in faith, he will feel that he has a work to do for God, and that the additional influence prosperity has secured to him ought to be held as a sacred trust to be used to God's glory, and hence he will be preserved from seeking merely his own ease and enjoyment. And strong in faith, he will view himself as a steward of all that he has, and will therefore seek to be God's almoner to the needy around him. So shall he live by his faith.
2. Others have to pass through adverse scenes; and the faith that strengthens in prosperity wilt also sustain amidst life's unfavourable influences. Resting in the Lord and in the glorious assurances of his Word, his servants can outride the severest storm, quietly acquiescing and bravely enduring. Ruskin remarks that there is good in everything in God's universe, that there is hardly a roadside pond or pool which has not as much landscape in it as above it, that it is at our own will that we see in that despised stream either the refuse of the street or the image of the sky, that whilst the unobservant man knows simply that the roadside pool is muddy, the great painter sees beneath and behind the brown surface what will take him a day's work to follow, but he follows it, cost what it will, and is amply recompensed, and that the great essential is an eye to apprehend and to appreciate the beautiful which lies about us everywhere in God's world. And this is what we want spiritually—the eye of faith, and then shall we see, even in the most opposite of the experiences which meet us in life, God's gracious operation, and the vision shall thrill us with holy joy. "The just shall live by his faith." This life of faith is a life characterized by true blessedness. There can be no real happiness whilst we are opposing our will to the will of God; but if our will is renewed by his grace, if we are trusting in the Saviour and following him along the way of obedience to the Divine authority and of resignation to the Divine purpose, then amidst all the changing scenes of our life our peace shall flow like a river, and we shall experience joy lasting as God's throne.—S.D.H.
In the remaining portion of this chapter the prophet dwells upon the sins prevailing amongst the Chaldeans, and indicates the misery these should entail. His utterances, taken together, form a satirical ode directed against the Chaldeans, who, though not named, are yet most clearly personified. In the general statement respecting them in Habakkuk 2:5 allusion is made to their rapacity, and the first stanza in the song is specially directed to this greed, which was so characteristic of that nation. The words of the prophet suggest to us respecting the sin of covetousness, that—
I. IT IS UNSATISFYING IN ITS NATURE. It is compared (Habakkuk 2:5) to Hades and death, that crave continually for more. "The covetous man is like Tantalus, up to the chin in water, yet thirsty." Necessarily it must be so, for "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). Wealth can only yield satisfaction in proportion as it is acquired, not for its own sake, but to be consecrated to high and holy purposes. George Herbert sings—
"Be thrifty, but not covetous. Get, to live;
Then live and use it: else it is not true
That thou hast gotten."
II. IT LEADS TO INJUSTICE AND OPPRESSION. The covetous man "increaseth that which is not his" (Habakkuk 2:6). He disregards the rights of others. He uses all who come within his power with a view to his own aggrandizement. Self is the primary consideration with him, and influences all his movements. "He oppresseth the poor to increase his riches," and out of their grinding poverty and want he grows fat. He is ready to take any mean advantage so as to add to his own stores. He demands heavy security of the debtor, and exacts crushing interest, and "ladeth himself with thick clay" (Habakkuk 2:6), i.e. "loadeth himself with the burden of pledges."
III. IT INCURS SURE RETRIBUTION. Whether this sin is committed by individuals or nations, it is alike "woe" unto such; for there shall assuredly follow Divine judgments. Habakkuk represents the Chaldeans as one who had gathered men and nations into his net (Habakkuk 1:14-17), and as having "spoiled many nations" (verse 8), and Jeremiah confirms these representations of their rapacity by describing them as "the hammer" (Jeremiah 50:23) and the destroyer (Jeremiah 51:25) of the whole earth; and they also declare that there should overtake them certain retribution for the wrongs they had thus done and the sorrows they had thus occasioned, and that the spoiler should be at length spoiled (verses 7, 8). In the destruction of the Chaldean empire by the Medes and Persians we have the fulfilment of the threatenings, whilst, at the same time, we hear the voice of God speaking to us in the events of history and saying,, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness!"—S.D.H.
Ambition may be pure and lofty, and when this is the case it cannot be too highly commended. It is "the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds." "It is to the human heart what spring is to the earth, making every root and bud and bough desire to be more." Headway cannot be made in life apart from it, and destitute of this spirit a man must be outstripped in the race. Ambition, however, may take the opposite form, and it is to ambition corrupt and low in its nature that these verses refer. Observe indicated here concerning such unworthy ambition.
I. ITS AIM. The concern of the rulers of Babylon was to secure unlimited supremacy, to reach an eminence where, secure from peril and in the enjoyment of ease and luxury, they might, without restraint, exercise despotic control over the nations. "That he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil" (Habakkuk 2:9). False ambition, whether in individuals or nations, is directed to the attainment of worldly distinction, authority, and power, and has its foundation in pride and selfesteem.
II. ITS UNSCRUPULOUSNESS. "They coveted an evil covetousness to their house" (Habakkuk 2:9), totally disregarding the sacredness of property and the rights of man. Their acts were marked by oppression, plunder, and cruelty; they impoverished feebler nations and even "cut off many people" (Habakkuk 2:10) in seeking the accomplishment of their selfish purposes. So is it ever that such ambition breaks the ties of blood and forgets the obligations of manhood."
III. ITS ISSUE. The prophet indicates that all this self-seeking and self-glorying must end in disgrace and dishonour.
1. The very monuments reared thus in the spirit of pride should bear adverse testimony. In the language of poetry he represents the materials which they had obtained by plunder and which they had brought from other lands into Chaldea, to be used in the construction of their stately edifices, as protesting against the way in which they had been obtained and the purposes to which they had been applied (Habakkuk 2:11).
2. Shame and ruin should overtake the schemers and plotters themselves. "Thou hast sinned against thy soul" (Habakkuk 2:10). Whatever their material gain, they had become spiritually impoverished by their course of action. They had degraded their higher nature and had incurred guilt and condemnation.
3. All connected with them should share in the disgrace and dishonour. "Thou hast consulted shame to thy house" (verse10); "God visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him" (Exodus 20:5); "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house" (Proverbs 15:27). Men who have sought, by grasping and extortion, or by war and conquest, to establish and .perpetuate a high reputation, have, through their unrighteous deeds, passed away in ignominy, leaving to their posterity a tarnished and dishonoured name. "The house of the wicked shall be overthrown; but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish" (Proverbs 14:11).—S.D.H.
The two kingdoms: a contrast.
Reference is made in these verses to two kingdoms—the kingdom of Babylon and the kingdom of God; and this association serves to indicate several points of contrast.
I. THE GLORY OF THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD IS MATERIAL; THE GLORY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS SPIRITUAL. The glory of Chaldea centred in its magnificent city of Babylon, so grand in its situation, its edifices, it defences, and in the stores of treasure it contained, its greatness consisting thus in its material resources; but the glory of the kingdom of God is spiritual. It is "the glory of the Lord" that constitutes its excellence—all moral beauty and spiritual grace abounding therein.
II. THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD HAVE OFTEN BEEN FOUNDED AND ESTABLISHED BY MEANS OF WRONG DOING; THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS FOUNDED AND ESTABLISHED IN PURE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND TRUE HOLINESS. The Chaldeans, by their superior might and powers, conquered other tribes, and with the spoils of war and the forced labour of the conquered they reared their cities. They "built a town with blood, and established a city by iniquity" (Habakkuk 2:12); but "a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of God's kingdom."
III. HUMAN TOIL IS INVOLVED IN THE INTERESTS OF BOTH; yet notice, by way of contrast;
1. Toil in the interests of earthly kingdoms is often compulsory and is rendered reluctantly—aliens who had fallen as captives into the power of the Chaldeans were made to labour and serve; but toil in the interests of God's kingdom is ever voluntary and is rendered lovingly and without constraint.
2. Toil in the interests of earthly kingdoms is often toil for that which shall be destroyed, and which shall come to nought. "The people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity" (Habakkuk 2:13), i.e. they should labour in erecting edifices which should be consumed by fire, and thus their toil prove in vain; but toil in the interests of God's kingdom shall prove abiding and eternal in its results.
3. The workers of iniquity, no matter how earnest their toil, should be covered eventually with dishonour and shame—"Woe to him!" etc. (Habakkuk 2:12)—but all true toilers for God and righteousness shall be divinely approved and honoured.
IV. THE PROSPERITY OF MATERIAL KINGDOMS IS UNCERTAIN; WHEREAS THE TRIUMPH OF GOD'S SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS ASSURED. "The knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth."
V. EARTHLY KINGDOMS ARE LIMITED IN EXTENT; BUT THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM OF OUR GOD SHALL ATTAIN UNTO UNIVERSAL DOMINION. "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."—S.D.H.
God's retributive justice.
It is a Divine law that "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). God is just, and hence will cause retribution to be experienced by evil doers. A striking illustration of the operation of this great law is presented in these verses. Consider—
I. THE COURSE THE CHALDEANS HAD ADOPTED TOWARD OTHERS. (Habakkuk 2:15.) The reference in this verse is not to the sin of drunkenness. That sin is a distressing and degrading one, and they are true lovers of their kind who seek to lessen its ravages, to deliver men from its thraldom. It has proved a blight to the children of men all down the ages. The Chaldeans were notorious for it; revellings, banquetings, excess of wine, marked them all through their history, and specially signalized the close of their career. The prophet, however, here simply used this vice as a symbol in order to set forth vividly the course the Babylonians had adopted towards others, and specially to indicate their deceitfulness. Drink drowns the reason, and places its victim at the mercy of any who are mean enough to take advantage of him. And the thought the prophet wished to convey here (Habakkuk 2:15) seems to be that as a man, desiring to injure another, persuades him to take stimulant, and thus, whilst professing good intentions, effects his evil purpose, so had the Chaldeans intoxicated feebler powers by professions of friendship and regard, drawing them into alliance, and then turning upon them to their discomfiture and ruin. And he proceeds to indicate—
II. THE COURSE GOD WOULD ADOPT TOWARDS THEM. (Habakkuk 2:16, Habakkuk 2:17.) And in this he traced the Divine retribution of their iniquity. He saw prophetically that:
1. As they had taken advantage of others, so others should in due course take advantage of them (Habakkuk 2:16) and bring them to shame.
2. As they would lay waste his country and take his people into captivity, so subsequently they should themselves be brought to nought, and their empire pass out of their hands (Habakkuk 2:17; comp. Isaiah 14:8, in which the fir trees and cedars are made to rejoice in the overthrow of Babylon). Our prophet had been perplexed at the thought of the Chaldeans as being the instruments of the Divine justice in reference to his own sinful people, but the mystery was clearing away, and in the final overthrow of Babylon he here foreshadowed, he traced another token that "the Lord is righteous in all his ways."—S.D.H.
Worship, false and true.
The prophet, in recounting the sins of the Chaldeans, finally recalled to mind the idolatry prevailing amongst them. He thought of the temple of Bel, "casting its shadow far and wide over city and plain," and of the idolatrous worship of which it was the centre, and he broke forth in words expressive of the utmost scorn and contempt, and then closed his song by pointing to him who alone is worthy to receive the devout adoration and adoring praise of all the inhabitants of the earth. Notice—
I. HIS EXPOSURE OF THE WEAKNESS AND FOLLY OF IDOLATRY. (Habakkuk 2:18, Habakkuk 2:19.)
1. He appealed to experience. His own people unhappily had been betrayed into idolatry, and he asked them whether they had ever profited thereby (Habakkuk 2:18).
2. He appealed to reason. The maker of anything must of necessity be greater than that which he fashions with his own hands and as the result of his own skill; hence what greater absurdity could there be than for the maker of a dumb idol to be reposing his trust in the thing he has formed (Habakkuk 2:18)?
3. He denounced the idol priests, who, by using dumb idols as their instrument, made these "teachers of lies" (Habakkuk 2:18).
4. He declared the hopelessness resulting from reposing trust in these. "Woe unto him!" etc. (Habakkuk 2:19).
5. He indulged in scornful satire (Habakkuk 2:19). This verse may be fittingly compared with Elijah's irony of speech addressed in Carmel to the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). The verse is more effectively rendered in the Revised Version—
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake!
To the dumb stone, Arise!
Shall this teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver:
And there is no breath at all in the midst of it."
The weakness and folly of idolatry as practised in heathen lands is readily admitted by us; yet we are prone to forget that the idolatrous spirit may prevail even amongst those who are encompassed by influences eminently spiritual. Love of the aesthetical may lead us to become sensuous rather than spiritual in worship. Attachment to science may cause us to slight the supernatural and to deify nature. Desire for worldly success may result in our bowing down in the temple of Mammon; so that the counsel is still needed, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).
II. HIS PRESENTATION OF JEHOVAH AS BEING SUPREME AND AS ALONE ENTITLED TO THE REVERENT HOMAGE OF HUMAN HEARTS. "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."
1. The contrast presented here is truly sublime. From impotent idols the seer raises his thoughts and directs attention to the living God.
2. The temple in Jerusalem was the recognized dwelling place of God. The prophet saw looming in the distance the invasion of his country by the idolatrous Chaldeans, followed by the destruction of the temple and the desecration of all he held so sacred in association with it. Still he was assured that through all the coming changes Jehovah would remain the Supreme Ruler and Controller. Unconfined to temples made with hands, their overthrow could not affect his role. "His throne is in the heavens;" he reigns there; and fills heaven and earth, dominating the universe, and guiding and overruling all to the accomplishment of his all-wise and loving purposes. "The Lord is in his holy temple."
3. Our true position as his servants is that of reverentially waiting before him, acquiescing in his will, trusting in his Word, assured that, despite the prevailing mysteries, the end shall reveal his wisdom and his love. He says to us, "Be still, and know that I am God." Then let no murmuring word be spoken, even when clouds and darkness seem to be round about him; the processes of his working are hidden from our weak view, but the issue is sure to vindicate the unerring wisdom and infinite graciousness of his rule. Happy the man who is led from doubt to faith, who, like this seer, beginning with the complaint, "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" etc. (Habakkuk 1:2), is led through calm reflection and hallowed communion to cherish the conviction that "the Lord is in his holy temple, and that all the earth should keep silence before him."—S.D.H.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Man's moral mission to the world.
"I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." The prophet, after his supplicatory cry, receives a Divine command to write the oracle in plain characters. because it was certain, although it would not be immediately fulfilled. The first verse is a kind of mouologue. The prophet holds conversation with himself; and he resolves to ascend his watch tower, and look out for a Divine revelation. It is thought by many critics that the watch tower is not to be regarded as something external, some lofty place commanding an extensive view and profound silence, but the recesses of his own mind, into which he would withdraw himself by devout contemplation, I shall use the words of the text to illustrate man's moral mission to the world. Wherefore are we in this world? Both the theories and the practical conduct of men give different answers to this all-important problem. I shall take the answer from the text, and observe—
I. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO RECEIVE COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. "I will stand upon my watch, and sot me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me." That man is constituted for and required to receive communications from the Infinite Mind, and that he cannot realize his destiny without this, appears evident from the following Considerations.
1. From his nature as a spiritual being.
(1) He has an instinct for it. He naturally calls out for the living God. As truly as the eye is made to receive light, the soul is made to receive thought from God.
(2) He has a capacity for it. Unlike the lower creatures around us, we can receive the ideas of God.
(3) He has a necessity for it. God's ideas are the quickening powers of the soul.
2. From his condition as a fallen being. Sin has shut out God from the soul, created a dense cloud between us and him.
3. From the purpose of Christ's mediation. Why did Christ come into the world? To bring the human soul and God together, that the Lord might "dwell amongst men."
4. From the special manifestations of God for the purpose. I say special, for nature, history, heart, and conscience are the natural orders of communication between the human and the Divine. But we have something more than these—the Bible; this is special. Here he speaks to man at sundry times and in divers manners, etc.
5. From the general teaching of the Bible. "Come now, and let us reason together," etc.; "Behold, I stand at the door," etc. But how shall we receive these communications? We must ascend the "tower" of quiet, earnest, devout thought, and there must "watch to see what he will say."
II. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO IMPART COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." From this we may conclude that writing is both an ancient and a divinely sanctioned art. Thank God for books! That we have to impart as well as to receive is evident:
1. From the tendency of Divine thoughts to express themselves. It is of the nature of religious ideas that they struggle for utterance. What we have seen and heard we cannot but speak.
2. From the universal adaptation of Divine thoughts. Thoughts from God are not intended merely for certain individuals or classes, but for all the race in all generations.
3. From the spiritual dependence of man upon man. It is God's plan, that man shall be the spiritual teacher of man.
4. From the general teaching of the Bible. What the prophets and apostles received from God they communicated. "When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood," etc. (Galatians 1:16).
III. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO PRACTICALLY REALIZE COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. "Though it tarry, wait for it," etc. The Divine thoughts which we receive we are to realize in our daily life, practically to work out. Here, then, is our moral mission. We are here, brothers, for these three purposes; not for one of them only, but for all. God is to be everything to us; he is to fill up the whole sphere of our being, our "all in all." We are to be his auditors, hearing his voice in everything; we are to be his organ, conveying to others what he has conveyed to us; we are to be his representatives, manifesting him in every act of our life. All we say and do, our looks and mien, are to be rays reflected from the Father of lights.
CONCLUSION. From this subject we may learn:
1. The reasonableness of religion. What is it? Simply to receive, propagate, and develop communications from the Infinite Mind. What can be more sublimely reasonable than this?
2. The grandeur of a religious life. What is it? The narrowness, the intolerance, the bigotry, the selfishness of many religionists lead sceptics to look upon religion with derision. But what is it? To be a disciple of the all-knowing God, a minister of the all-ruling God, a representative of the all-glorious God. Is there anything grander?
3. The function of Christianity. What is it? To induce, to qualify, and enable men to receive, communicate, and to live the great thoughts of God.—D.T.
The portraiture of a good man.
"Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith." Whether the man whose soul is represented as "lifted up" refers to the unbelieving Jew or to the Babylonian, is an unsettled question amongst biblical critics; and a question of but little practical moment. We take the words as a portraiture of a good man.
I. A GOOD MAN IS A HUMBLE MAN. This is implied. His soul is not "lifted up." Pride is not only no part of moral goodness, but is essentially inimical to it. It is said that St. Augustine, being asked, "What is the first article in the Christian religion?" replied, "Humility." "What is the second?" "Humility." "And the third?" "Humility." A proud Christian is a solecism. Jonathan Edwards describes a Christian as being such a "little flower as we see in the spring of the year, low and humble in the ground, opening its bosom for the beams of the sun, rejoicing in a calm rapture, suffusing around sweet fragrance, and standing peacefully and lowly in the midst of other flowers." Pride is an obstruction to all progress and knowledge and virtue, and is abhorrent to the Holy One. "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble."
"Fling away ambition,
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by 't?"
II. A GOOD MAN IS A JUST MAN. "The just shall live by his faith." To be good is nothing more than to be just.
1. Just to self. Doing the right thing to one's own faculties and affections as the offspring of God.
2. Just to offers. Doing unto others what we would that they should do unto us.
3. Just to God. The kindest Being thanking the most, the best Being loving the most, the greatest Being reverencing the most. To be just to self, society, and God,—this is religion.
III. A GOOD MAN IS A CONFIDING MAN. He lives "by his faith." This passage is quote! by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11; it is also quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38). What is faith? Can you get a better definition than the writer of the Hebrews has given in the eleventh chapter and first verse?—"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This definition replies three things.
1. That the things to which faith is directed are invisible. "Things not seen." These things include things that are contingently unseeable and things that are essentially unseeable, such as thought, mind, God.
2. That some of the invisible things are objects of hope. "Things hoped for." The invisible has much that is very desirable to us—the society of holy souls, the presence of the blessed Christ, the manifestations of the infinite Father, etc.
3. That these invisible things faith makes real in the present life. "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The realization of the hopeable. Now, it is only by this faith that man can live a just life in this world; the man who lives by sight must be unjust. To be just, he must see him who is invisible.—D.T.
Moral wrong: some of its national phases.
"Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people." No doubt Habakkuk was reviled like the other prophets on account of his terrible predictions, as recorded in the preceding chapter (verses 6 and 11). From this verse to the nineteenth the prophet unfolds new visions concerning the national crimes committed by Babylon, and the consequent national calamities approaching. This verse gives some of the national phases of moral wrong as they appeared in Babylon. Evil, like good, is one in essence, but it has many forms and phases. The branches that grow out of the root, whilst filled with the same sap, vary widely in shape and hue. In this verse we have three of its forms.
I. DRUNKENNESS. "He transgresseth by wine;" or, as some render it, "moreover, the wine is treacherous." This is one of the most loathsome, irrational, and pernicious forms which it can assume. Drunkenness puts the man or the woman absolutely into the hands of Satan, to do whatsoever he wills—lie, swear, rob, murder, and luxuriate in moral mud. "A drunken man is like a fool, a madman, a drowned man; one draught too much makes him a fool, the second roads, and the third drowns him" (Shakespeare). It is the curse of England. It fills our workhouses with paupers, our hospitals with patients, our jails with prisoners, our mad houses with lunatics, our cemeteries with graves. Moral wrong took this form in ancient Babylon, and it takes this form in England today to an appalling extent. Woe to our legislators, if they do not put it down by the strong arm of the law! Nothing else will do it.
II. HAUGHTINESS. "Is a proud man." Babylon became inspired with a haughty insolence. She regarded herself as the queen of the world, and looked down with supercilious contempt upon all the other nations of the earth, even upon the Hebrew people, the heavenly chosen race. Nebuchadnezzar expresses the spirit of the kingdom as well as his own, when he says, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). It is suggested that the Chaldeans' love of wine had much to do in the developing of this haughty spirit. We read (Daniel 5:1-31.) that Belshazzar at his feast drank wine with the thousands of his lords, his princes, his wives, his concubines. "Wine is a mocker;" it cheats a beggar into the belief that he is a lord. "Strong drink is raging;" it lashes the passions into furious insolence. It is fabled that Aceius the poet, though he was a dwarf, would be pictured a giant in stature. Pride is an evil that leads to ruin. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
III. RAPACITY. Two things are suggested concerning the rapacious form it assumed in Babylon.
1. It was restless. "Neither keepeth at home." Not content with its own grandeur, wealth, and luxuries, it goes from home in search of others; goes out into other countries to rifle and to rob.
2. It is insatiable. "Who enlargeth his desire as hell [that is, 'as Sheol, the grave'], and is as death, and cannot be satisfied." "Hell and destruction," that is, the grave and death, says Solomon, "are never full." The grave cries for more and more, as its tenants multiply by millions. The earth seems to hunger and to gape for all the dust that enters into the frames of men. So it was with the Babylonian despot, though he gathered unto him all nations, and heaped unto him all peoples, his greed and ambition remained unsatiated and insatiable. "This," says an old writer, "is one of the crying sins of our land, insatiable pride. This makes dear rents and great fines; this takes away the whole clothing of many poor to add one lace more in the suits of the rich; this shortens the labourer's wages, and adds much to the burden of his labour. This greediness makes the market of spiritual and temporal offices and dignities, and puts well deserving virtue out of countenance. This corrupts religion with opinions, justice with bribes, charity with cruelty; it turns peace into schism and contention, love into compliment, friendship into treason, and sets the mouth of hell yet more open, and gives it an appetite for more souls." Such are some of the forms that moral wrong took in Babylon, as indicated in these words. But these are not the only forms, as we shall see in proceeding through the chapter. Does not moral wrong assume these very forms here in England? Drunkenness, haughtiness, rapacity,—these fiends show their hideous shapes everywhere, and work their demon deeds in every circle of life.—D.T.
National wrongs ending in national woes. No. 1.
"Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?" etc. In these verses, up to the nineteenth inclusive, the prophet denounces upon the Chaldeans and Babylonians five different woes. One for their pride and insatiableness (Habakkuk 2:6-8); another for their covetousness, etc; which would become the cause of their corruption (Habakkuk 2:9-11); another for the bloody and cruel means which they had employed for gratifying their thirst for acquiring possessions not their own (Habakkuk 2:12-14); and fourth, for their wickedness, etc; which would be recompensed to them (Habakkuk 2:15-17); and the fifth, for their trust in idols, which would redound to their shame (Habakkuk 2:18, Habakkuk 2:19). We shall take each of the five sections separately under the title, National wrongs ending in national woes. Notice—
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS.
1. Dishonest accumulation. "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!" Babylon grew wealthy. Its treasures were varied and all but inexhaustible. But whence came they? Came they by honest industry? Were they the home produce of diligent and righteous labour? No; from other lands. They were wrested from other countries by violence and fraud. Even the golden and silver vessels used at the royal feast were taken out of the temple which was at Jerusalem. "No more," says an old writer, "of what we have is to be reckoned ours than what we came honestly by. Nor will it long be ours, for wealth gotten by vanity will soon diminish." Take away the ill-gotten wealth of the nations of Europe—wealth gotten by fraud and violence—and how greatly will they be pauperized! How much of our national wealth has come to us honestly? A question this worth the impartial investigation of every man, and which must be gone into sooner or later.
2. Dominant materialism. "And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay." Although some render this "ladeth himself with many pledges," our version, which gives the word "clay," will cover all. The burning and insatiable desire of Babylon was for material wealth; and the men or the nation who succeed in this, only lade themselves with "thick clay" It is a bad thing for moral spirits to be laden with "thick clay." See the individual man who so pampers his animal appetites until he becomes a Falstaff. His spirit is laden with "thick clay." See the nation whose inspiration is that of avaricious merchandise, and whose god is mammon; its spirit is laden with "thick clay." Ah me! what millions are to be found in all civilized countries who are buried in "thick clay"! Clay is everything to them.
3. Extensive plunder. "Thou hast spoiled many nations." The first monarchy we read of in Holy Scripture is that of the Assyrians, begun by Ninus, of whom Nineveh took name, and by Nimrod, whom histories call Belus, and after him succeeded Semiramis his wife. This monarchy grew, by continual wars and violences on their neighbours, to an exceeding height and strength; so that the exaltation of that monarchy was the ruin of many nations, and this monarchy lasted, as some write, annos 1300.
4. Ruthless violence. "Because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein." "The terms 'men,' 'land,' 'earth,' 'city,'" says Henderson, "are to be understood generally, not restricted to the Jews, their country and its metropolis." What oceans of the blood of all countries were shed by these ruthless tyrants of Babylon!
II. THE NATIONAL WOES. All these wrongs, as all other wrongs, run into woes. Crimes lead to calamities. What are the woes connected with these wrongs, as given in these verses?
1. The contempt of the injured. "Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!" The woe comes out in a derisive song, which continues to the end of the chapter. Dishonesty and low animalism must ever sink the people amongst whom they prevail into bitter contempt. Scarcely can there be anything more painful than the contempt of others when it is felt to be deserved. To be sneered at, laughed at, ridiculed, scorned,—is not this bitterly affictive? Jeremiah predicted that one part of the punishment should be that he should be laughed to scorn.
2. The avenging of the spoiled. "Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee." Here is retaliation—plunder for plunder, blood for blood. Divine retribution often pays man back in his own coin. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
CONCLUSION. Ever under the righteous administration of Heaven woes tread closely on the heel of wrongs. More certainly than the waves of the ocean follow the moon must suffering follow sin. To every crime there is linked a curse, to every sin a suffering, to every wrong a woe. Be sure that "your sins will find you out."—D.T.
National wrongs ending in national woes. No. 2.
"Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." Notice—
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS HERE INDICATED.
1. Coveting the possessions of others. "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house!" "An evil covetousness!" There is a good covetousness. We are commanded to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). But to hunger for those things which are not our own, but the property of others, and that for our own gratification and aggrandizement, is the sin which is prohibited in the Decalogue, which is denounced in the Gospel as a cardinal sin, and which is represented as excluding from the kingdom of heaven. The covetous man is a thief in spirit and in reality.
2. Trusting in false securities. So "that he may set his nest on high, that he maybe delivered from the power of evil." The image is from an eagle (Job 39:27). The royal citadel is meant. The Chaldeans built high towers like the Babel founders, to be delivered from the power of evil. They sought protection, not in the Creator but in the creature, not in moral means but in material. Thus foolishly nations have always acted and are still acting; they trust to armies and to navies, not to righteousness, truth, and God. A moral character built on justice, purity, and universal benevolence is the only right and safe defence of nations. "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest against the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord" (Obadiah 1:4).
3. Sinning against the soul. "And hast sinned against thy soul," or against thyself. Indeed, all wrong is a sin against one's self—a sin against the laws of reason, conscience, and happiness. "He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul." Such are some of the wrongs implied by these verses. Alas! they are not confined to Babylon or to any of the ancient kingdoms. They are too rife amongst all the modern kingdoms of the earth.
II. THE NATIONAL WOES HERE INDICATED. "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house!" etc. What is the woe connected with these evils? It is contained in these words, "The stone shall cry out of the wail, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." Their guilty conscience will endow the dead materials of their own dwellings with the tongue to denounce in thunder their deeds of rapacity and blood. Startling personification this! The very stones of thy palace and the beams out of the timber shall testify. "Note," says Matthew Henry, "those that do wrong to their neighbour do a much greater wrong to their own souls. But if the sinner pleads, 'Not guilty,' and thinks he has managed his frauds and violence with so much art and contrivance that they cannot be proved upon him, let him know that if there be no other witnesses against him, the stone shall cry out of the wall against him, and the beam out of the timber in the roof shall answer it, shall second it, shall witness it, that the money and materials wherewith he built the house were unjustly gotten (verse 11). The stones and timber shall cry to Heaven for vengeance, as the whole creation groans under the sin of man, and waits to be delivered from that bondage of corruption." Observe:
1. That mind gives to all the objects that once impressed it a mystic power of suggestion. Who has not felt this? Who does not feel it every day? The tree, the house, the street, the lane, the stream, the meadow, the mountain, that once touched our consciousness, seldom fail to start thoughts in us whenever we are brought into contact with them again. It seems as if the mind gave part of itself to all the objects that once impressed it. When we revisit, after years of absence, the scenes of childhood, all the objects which impressed us in those early days seem to beat out and revive the thoughts and feelings of our young hearts. Hence, when we leave a place which in person we may never revisit, we are still tied to it by an indissoluble bond. Nay, we carry it with us and reproduce it in memory.
2. That mind gives to those objects that impressed us when in the commission of any sin a terrible power to start remorseful memories. This is a fact of which, alas! all are conscious. And hence those stones and timbers, stolen from other people, that went to build the palaces, temples, and mansions in Babylon, would not fail to speak in thunder to the guilty consciences of those who obtained them by violence or fraud. No intelligent personal witness is required to prove a sinner's guilt. All the scenes of his conscious life vocalize his guilt.—D.T.
National wrongs ending in national woes. No. 3.
"Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Notice—
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS INDICATED IN THESE VERSES. The great wrong referred to in these verses is the accumulation of gain by wicked means. "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!" In itself there is nothing improper in building towns, establishing cities, and accumulating wealth. Indeed, all these things are both legitimate and desirable. But it is stated that these Babylonians did it:
1. By violence. "With blood." Men's lives were sacrificed for the purpose. "By iniquity." Justice was outraged in the effort.
2. By cruelty. "Labour in the very fire." These wrongs we have already explained in the preceding sections. (But see a different explanation of "labour in the fire" in the Exposition.)
II. THE NATIONAL WOES INDICATED IN THESE WORDS. What is the woe? Disapprobation of. God.
1. These wrongs are contrary to his nature. "Is it not of the Lord of hosts?" or, as Keil renders it, "Is it not beheld from Jehovah of hosts that the people weary themselves for fire, and nations exhaust themselves from vanity?" He does not desire it. Nay, it is hostile to his will, it is displeasing to his nature. The benevolent Creator is against all social injustice and cruelty. His will is that men should "do unto others as they would that men should do unto them."
2. These wrongs are contrary to his purpose for the world. His purpose is that the "earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." To this end the kingdom of the world which is hostile to him must be destroyed. "This promise," says Keil, "involves a threat directed against the Chaldean, whose usurped glory must be destroyed in order that the glory of the universe may fill the whole earth." What a glorious prospect!
(1) This world, in the future, is to enjoy the greatest blessing. What is that? The knowledge of the glory of God. Knowledge in itself is a blessing. The soul without it is not good (Proverbs 19:2). It is not the mere knowledge of the works of God. This is of unspeakable value. Not merely the knowledge of some of the attributes of God. This is of greater value still. But the knowledge of the glory of God, which means the knowledge of God himself, "whom to know is life eternal."
(2) This world, in the future, is to enjoy the greatest blessing in the greatest abundance. "As the waters cover the sea." He shall flood all souls with its celestial and transporting radiance.—D.T.
National wrongs ending in national woes. No. 4.
"Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness! Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the Lord's right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory," etc. "This," says Henderson, "is the commencement of the fourth stanza. Though the idea of the shameless conduct of drunkards here depicted may have been borrowed from the profligate manners of the Babylonian court, yet the language is not to be taken literally, as if the prophet were describing such manners, but, as the sequel shows, is applied allegorically to the state of stupefaction, prostration, and exposure to which the conquered nations were reduced by the Chaldeans (see Isaiah 51:17-20; and comp. Psalms 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15-28; Jeremiah 49:12; Jeremiah 51:7; Ezekiel 23:31, Ezekiel 23:32; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18:6). Notice -
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS. What are the wrongs referred to in this passage?
1. The promotion of drunkenness. "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink!" The Babylonians were not only drunkards, but the promoters of drunkenness. The very night on which this prophecy was fulfilled, Belshazzar drank wine with a thousand of his lords. More than once in these homilies we have had to characterize and denounce this sin. Who are the promoters of drunkenness? Brewers, distillers, tavern keepers, and, I am sorry to add, doctors, all of whom, with a few exceptions, recommend intoxicating drinks. In doing so these men inflict a thousand times as much evil upon mankind as they can accomplish good.
2. The promotion of drunkenness involves indeceney. "That thou mayest look on their nakedness." It is the tendency of drunkenness to destroy all sense of decency. A drunkard, whether male or female, loses all sense of shame.
II. THE NATIONAL WOES. "Woe unto him that giveth strong drink!, What will come to those people?
1. Contempt. "Thou art filled with shame for glory! the cup of the Lord's right hand shall be turned unto thee." As the Chaldeans had treated the nations they had conquered in a most disgusting manner, so they in their turn should be similarly treated. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
2. Violence. "For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee." Stripped of all figure, the meaning of this is that the sufferings which Babylon inflicted upon Palestine, represented here by Lebanon, would return to them. Here is retribution. Babylon had given the cup of drunkenness, and in return should have the cup of fury and contempt.—D.T.
Habakkuk 2:18, Habakkuk 2:19
National wrongs ending in national woes. No. 5.
"What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it." We have said that the prophet denounces upon the Chaldeans, in Habakkuk 2:6-19 of this chapter, five different woes of a most terrible nature. We have noticed four of them. This is the fifth and the last; and it is denounced on account of their idolatry. We have seen no translation of the text more faithful to the original than this, the Authorized Version. The note of Henderson on the text deserves quotation. "These verses expose the folly of idolatry, to which the Babylonians were wholly addicted. It might be supposed, from all the other stanzas having been introduced by a denunciatory הוי, 'woe!' that a transposition has here taken place, and that the nineteenth verse ought to be read before the eighteenth; and Green has thus placed them in his translation. But there is a. manifest propriety in anticipating the inutility of idols, in close connection with what the prophet had just announced respecting the downfall of Babylon, before delivering his denunciation against their worshippers themselves." Now, idolatry, as it prevails in heathen lands, idolatry proper as we may say, is universally denounced by the professors of Christianity everywhere. We need not employ one word to expose its absurdity and moral abominations. But its spirit is rampant in all Christendom, is rife in all "Christian Churches," as they are called; and it is the spirit, not the form, that is the guilty and damnable part of idolatry. We raise, therefore, three observations from these verses.
I. THAT MEN OFTEN GIVE TO THE WORKS OF THEIR OWN HANDS THE DEVOTIONS THAT BELONG TO GOD. These old Chaldean idolaters gave their devotions to the "graven image" and to the "molten image" that men had carved in wood and stone or moulded from molten metals. It was the works of their own hands they worshipped. They made gods of their own productions. This was all they did; and are not the men of England, as a rule, doing the same thing? They yield their devotions to the works of their own hands. It may be wealth, fame, fashion, pleasure, or power. It is all the same. Are men's sympathies in their strong current directed towards God or towards something else? Do they expend the larger portion of their time and the greater amount of their energies in the service of the Eternal, or in the service of themselves? This is the question; and the answer is too palpable to the eye of every spiritual thinker. Exeter Hall may "weep and howl" over the idolatry prevailing in India, China, and other heathen parts; but thoughtful Christ-like souls are showering in silence and solitude their tears on the terrible idolatry that reigns everywhere in their own country.
II. THAT MEN OFTEN LOOK TO THE WORKS OF THEIR OWN HANDS FOR A BLESSING WHICH GOD ALONE CAN BESTOW. These old idolaters said to the "wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!" They invoked the dead forms they themselves had made, to help them, to give them relief, to render them happy. Now, it is true that men do not say formal prayers to wealth, or fashion, or fame, or power; yet to these they look with all their souls for happiness. A man's prayer is the deep aspiration of his soul, and this deep aspiration is being everywhere addressed to these dead deities; men are crying for happiness to objects which are as incapable of yielding it as the breathless gods of heathendom. "There is no breath at all in the midst of it." Men who are looking for happiness to any of these objects are like the devotees of Baal, who cried from morning to evening for help, and no help came.
III. THAT IN ALL THIS MEN ENTAIL ON THEMSELVES THE WOES OF OUTRAGED SEASON AND JUSTICE. "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!"
1. It is the woe of outraged reason. What help could they expect of the "molten image, and a teacher of lies"? What answer could they expect from the "dumb idols" that they themselves had made? What relief from any of the idols, though overlaid with gold and silver? "There is no breath at all in the midst of it." How irrational all this! Equally unreasonable is it for men to search for happiness in any of the works of their bands, and in any being or in any object independent of God.
2. It is the woe of insulted justice. What has God said? "Thou shalt have no other gods before me;" "Thou shalt worship no graven image;" "Thou shalt love me with all thy heart," etc. All this devotion, therefore, to the works of our own hands, or to any other creature, is an infraction of man's cardinal obligation. "Will a man rob God?" Go, then, to the men on 'Change, who are seeking happiness from wealth—to the men in scenes of fashionable and worldly amusements, who are seeking happiness from sensual indulgences and worldly applause—and thunder, "Woo unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!"
"And still from him we turn away,
And fill our hearts with worthless things
The fires of avarice melt the clay,
And forth the idol springs!
Ambition's flame and passion's heat
By wondrous alchemy transmute
Earth's dross, to raise some gilded brute
To fill Jehovah's seat."
Silence in the temple,
"The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." "In striking contrast," says Dr. Henderson, "with the utter nihility of idols, Jehovah is here introduced, at the close of all the prophecy, as the invisible Lord of all, occupying his celestial temple, whence he is ever ready to interpose his omnipotence for the deliverance and protection of his people and the destruction of their enemies (comp. Isaiah 26:21). Such a God it becomes all to adore in solemn and profound silence (Psalms 76:8, Psalms 76:9; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13)." We take these words as suggesting three great subjects of thought.
I. THE UNIVERSE IS THE TEMPLE OF GOD. Men practically ignore this fact. To some the world is only as a great farm to produce food; to others, a great market in which commodities are to be exchanged in order to amass wealth; to others, a great chest containing precious ores which are to be reached by labour, unlocked and brought into the market; to others, a great ballroom in which to dance and play and revel in sensuous enjoyment. Only a few regard it as a temple. But few tread its soil with reverent steps, feeling that all is holy ground. What a temple it is! how vast in extent! how magnificent in architecture! how stirring are its national appeals!
II. THE TEMPLE IS FILLED WITH THE DIVINE PRESENCE. "The Lord is in his holy temple." He is in it, not merely as a king is in his kingdom or the worker in his works; but he is in it as the soul is in the body, the fountain of its life, the spring of its activities. Unlike the human architect, he did not build the house and leave it; unlike the author, he did not write his volume and leave his book to tell its own tale; unlike the artist, he did not leave his pictures or his sculpture to stand dead in the hall. He is in all, not as a mere influence, but as an absolute, almighty Personality. "Do not I fill the heaven and earth? saith the Lord."
III. HIS PRESENCE IN THE GREAT TEMPLE DEMANDS SILENCE. "Keep silence before him." It would seem as if the Divine nature revolted from bluster and noise. How serenely he moves in nature! As spring by universal life rises out of death without any noise, and as the myriad orbs of heaven roll with more than lightning velocity in asublime hush. How serenely he moves in Christ! He did not cause his voice to be heard in the streets. His presence, consciously realized, will generate in the soul feelings too deep, too tender for speech. Were the Eternal to be consciously felt by the race today, all the human sounds that fill the air and deaden the ears of men would be hushed into profound silence.
"Never with blast of trumpets
And the chariot wheels of fame
Do the servants and sons of the Highest
His oracles proclaim;
But when grandest truths are uttered,
And when holiest depths are stirred,
When our God himself draws nearest,
The still, small voice is heard.
He has sealed his own with silence:
His years that come and go,
Bringing still their mighty measures
Of glory and of woe—
Have you heard one note of triumph
Proclaim their course begun?
One voice or bell give tidings
When their ministry was done?"
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter