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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Habakkuk 2

 

 

Verse 1

Habakkuk 2:1. I will stand upon my watch — The Hebrews often express one thing by a multiplicity of words, as here several expressions are used to signify the same thing, namely, watching. As the prophets were considered as watchmen, and as the watchmen were placed on high towers, and it was their duty to look around very diligently to see what messengers or enemies, or what dangers or deliverances were approaching, and to continue steadfast in their posts; so here the prophet declares that he would as diligently watch and wait for God’s answer to what he had complained of in the foregoing chapter, namely, the great success of the Chaldeans though they were guilty of greater crimes than the Jewish nation. And what I shall answer when I am reproved — Or rather, As to what I have argued, meaning the expostulations which he had uttered just before. Archbishop Newcome, who renders the verbs in the first three clauses of this verse in the past time, (namely, I stood on my watch-tower, &c.,) interprets the latter part of it thus: And I looked to see what he would speak by me, and what I should reply to my arguing with him; that is, what I should reply, “to my own satisfaction, and to that of others, as to the difficulties raised Habakkuk 1:13-17, why the idolatrous and wicked Chaldeans and their king are to be prosperous and triumphant.”


Verse 2-3

Habakkuk 2:2-3. The Lord said, Write the vision — Write down what I am going to say. Every divine communication, by whatever means made, is often spoken of in the prophetic writings under the title of a vision. When the prophets were commanded to write any thing, it denoted the great importance of it, and that the fulfilling of it was at some distance. Make it plain upon tables — Write it in legible characters; that he may run that readeth — That it may be read with ease. For the vision is yet for an appointed time — What I am now about to reveal to thee will not be fulfilled till a certain time which God hath appointed, but which is yet at a distance. As this vision undoubtedly related to the destruction of the Babylonish monarchy, which is plainly foretold from Habakkuk 2:5 to the end of the chapter, so that event was not to take place till about one hundred years from this time. But at the end it shall speak — When the period appointed by God shall come, it shall be accomplished, and not disappoint your expectation. The Hebrew is, At the end it shall break forth, namely, as the morning light, which the word יפח, here used, properly and emphatically expresses: that is, the event spoken of shall break forth, or appear, with great clearness and evidence, and then this prophecy shall be proved a true one. Though it tarry, wait for it — Although it may be long deferred, and much time may intervene before it be accomplished; yet, nevertheless, continue confidently to expect it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry — Hebrew, לא יאחר, It will not be prolonged, or go beyond, namely, the appointed time; that is, it will certainly be fulfilled at the time that is appointed. The word here used is not the same with that rendered tarry in the former clause. All this is addressed to the Jewish nation in answer to their complaints, represented in the foregoing chapter, respecting the success and prosperity of the Chaldeans, notwithstanding their crimes; in reply to which, God, by a prophetic vision, informs the prophet, that the Chaldean nation should not go unpunished at the appointed time, namely, when they had filled up the measure of their iniquity, but they should be involved in a much greater destruction than the nations which they had conquered; that most of these nations would survive to see the entire overthrow and final ruin of the Chaldeans. Though God may defer the execution of his promises and threatenings a long time, according to our computation, yet they are no less sure than if they were immediately accomplished; and indeed it is only long with respect to our finite and narrow capacities; for with God, the Scriptures tell us, a thousand years are but as one day.


Verse 4

Habakkuk 2:4. Behold, his soul which is lifted up — That does not humbly adore and acquiesce in the justice and wisdom of the divine dispensations, but contends against them, and provides for his safety in a way of his own devising. The Vulgate renders this clause, Ecce qui incredulus est, non erit recta anima ejus in semetipso, “Behold he who is unbelieving, his soul will not be right in him.” And the version of the LXX. differs still more from our translation, εαν υποστειληται, ουκ ευδοκει η ψυχη μον εν αυτω, If he (that is, the just man, as it follows) draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. As these translations do not accord with the present Hebrew text, it is supposed by some learned men that it was written otherwise in the ancient copies; especially as the rendering of the LXX. is sanctioned by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews 10:38. According to this translation the sense of the passage is, that God having, in the foregoing verse, ordered the Jewish nation confidently to expect the fulfilling of the prophecy, and assured them that it would most certainly come to pass, he in this verse declares that his soul should have no pleasure in the man who should draw back, or whose faith should fail him in waiting for the fulfilling of the prophecy; but that the just should live by his faith — That is, that the truly righteous man, as both the Hebrew and Greek expression signifies, namely, the humble and upright one, who, adoring the depths of the divine dispensations, and being persuaded of the truth of God’s promises, should confide in him for the fulfilment of them, and remain constant in the expectation thereof, as well as of whatever else God had spoken; that he should thereby be supported under all the seeming irregular and trying dispensations of providence, and also be blessed with God’s favour and peculiar love, through the means of his faith. Our rendering, however, (namely, his soul which is lifted up, &c.,) “furnishes,” as Bishop Newcome observes, “a good sense, if we understand the passage of the Chaldeans; who, as appears from Habakkuk 1:7; Habakkuk 1:12; Habakkuk 1:15-17, may be addressed in the singular number throughout this chapter, though Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar (Daniel 5.) may be alluded to at the same time. But the idea of elation of mind does not occur in the ancient versions or paraphrase.”


Verse 5

Habakkuk 2:5. Yea also, because he — Namely, the king of Babylon; transgresseth by wine — Hereby Belshazzar, his city and kingdom, fell a prey to Darius and Cyrus. He is a proud man — Insolent in his behaviour toward all, whether subjects, strangers, or conquered enemies; such pride shall have a fall. Neither keepeth at home — Is always abroad, warring upon some nation or other. The sense, some think, would be plainer, if the words were thus translated: Moreover, like a man transgressing by wine, he is proud, and shall not continue, or prosper. So the Chaldee paraphrase and Vulgate interpret the words. Who enlargeth his desire as hell — Or rather, as the grave. He is most insatiably greedy to devour all, and as far from saying, It is enough, as the grave is. And is as death — As pernicious and ravenous. And cannot be satisfied — All is too little for him. But gathereth unto him all nations — Addeth one after another of the neighbouring nations to his kingdom; and heapeth unto him all people — Another expression of the same import. Now all these things, predicted of the future disposition of the kings of Babylon and their kingdom, were sure presages of their not continuing long in power and grandeur, but that divine vengeance would soon overtake them. Accordingly at this verse begins the denunciation against the Chaldean, or Babylonian empire, which is spoken of as comprised under one head, who is described as intoxicated with his successes, and not knowing how to set any bounds to his ambition; but still, as his conquests enlarged, his desire of having more increased. Death and the grave are proverbial emblems of an insatiable temper.


Verse 6

Habakkuk 2:6. Shall not these take up a parable against (or, concerning) him, and a taunting proverb — A parable, or proverb, signifies a metaphorical or figurative saying, out of the common way. And say, Wo to him that increaseth, &c. — Wo to him that is still increasing his own dominions, by invading those of his neighbours. How long? — Namely, will he be permitted to do this? Surely he will not be suffered to continue to act thus, without some remarkable check from Providence: and so what he thus increases will not be his, or for himself, (for so the words in the former part of the sentence may be translated,) but for the Medes and Persians, who shall conquer him, and enrich themselves with his spoils: see the following verse. And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay — Gold and silver, so called, being nothing originally but earth, or clay, and what should not turn to his benefit, but rather be his burden; adding weight to his sins and punishment.


Verse 7-8

Habakkuk 2:7-8. Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee? — Is it not just, or what thou deservest, that others should suddenly rise against thee, and bite and tear thee? It is a metaphor taken from the hunting of wild beasts. And awake that shall vex thee — As thou hast been a vexation to others by thy tyranny and cruelty. And thou shalt be for booties unto them — Unto the Medes and Persians. The expression, rise up suddenly, very fitly describes the suddenness with which the Babylonian empire was afterward overthrown. For though Cyrus could not be said to come upon them suddenly, or unexpectedly, yet the blow, whereby the Babylonian empire was overturned, was struck extremely suddenly; for, after all Cyrus’s victories, they thought themselves very secure within the walls of Babylon; and that Cyrus must be wearied out, and his army mouldered away, before he could make himself master of it: but by an unexpected stratagem, in draining the Euphrates, he got possession of the city, and destroyed the king and all his principal men in a few hours time: see notes on Isaiah 13:20; Jeremiah 50:38; and Daniel 5:30. Because, &c. — The prophet proceeds to give an account of the reasons on which divine vengeance proceeded in this affair. Thou hast spoiled many nations —

Hast slain or led captive their people, destroyed their cities, robbed their treasuries, deposed their kings; and hast done this to many nations, whose cry for vengeance is come up to heaven. All the remnant of the people shall spoil thee — Now shalt thou be paid in thine own coin: the remnant of the nations, unspoiled by thee, shall combine against thee, and execute the Lord’s just sentence upon thee. This was evidently verified in the destruction of the Babylonian empire; for Cyrus’s army was made up of a great many different nations. Because of men’s blood — As a just return for thy cruelty, in the slaughter thou hast made of mankind. And for the violence of — Or rather, against, the land — And particularly for the violence offered to the land of Judea, and the city of Jerusalem, and its temple and inhabitants.


Verses 9-11

Habakkuk 2:9-11. Wo to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house —

“Which Nebuchadnezzar strove to aggrandize, and which Cyrus cut off.” — Newcome. The translation of the LXX. accords exactly with ours: but the Hebrew, בצע בצע רע, seems to be more exactly rendered by Dr. Wheeler, “Wo unto him that procureth wicked gain for his family:” that is, who endeavours to raise it to a state of wealth and pre-eminence by sinful means. That he may set his nest on high — May exalt himself and his family to such power and greatness, that they shall be out of the reach of all their enemies; that he may be delivered from the power of evil — May be kept secure and out of danger from all below him. This is spoken of Nebuchadnezzar, his family and kingdom; that as birds, guided by instinct, build their nests on the top of rocks and trees, or other places; so the king of Babylon thought, by getting possession of many places strong by their situation, on lofty eminences difficult to come at, as well as by their fortifications, that he, his family, and kingdom, should always be safe and out of danger from any enemy; or, as it is expressed in the text, from the hand of evil. Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, &c. — Thy cruelty toward others will turn at last to thy own confusion, and utter extirpation. And hast sinned against thy own soul — Hast done that which will bring destruction on thyself. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, &c. — The walls of so many cities thrown down, and the ruins of a multitude of houses, will bear witness of thy injustice and cruelty.


Verses 12-14

Habakkuk 2:12-14. Wo to him that buildeth a town with blood — Wo to those mighty conquerors who have augmented Babylon by unjustly spoiling and ruining many other cities, and destroying their inhabitants. Here we see that God does not approve of those mighty conquerors who ravage the world, or carry their arms into divers countries. Though he makes use of them for the wise purposes of his providence, in chastising or punishing the wicked, yet, amidst all the pomp of their victories, they are often hateful in his sight; and, while they are in the midst of their triumphs, he is preparing the sword to cut them off. What is said in this verse is applicable to all covetous, unjust, and oppressive methods whatever of raising a fortune. Behold, is it not of the Lord that the people shall labour in the very fire? &c. — The latter part of the verse occurs with very little alteration Jeremiah 51:58, where the destruction of Babylon is described: see the note there. The sense is, All the pains which the Chaldeans have taken, in enlarging and beautifying their city, shall be lost in the flames, which shall consume their stately buildings; and nothing of all that they have obtained, or collected, by their toilsome victories, shall be of any use to them. For the earth shall be filled — For God’s power and providence, in governing the world, shall conspicuously appear, and be widely displayed in the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar, (Daniel 4:37,) in the downfall of the Chaldean empire, and the destruction of Babylon; especially as it is described in the prophets as an earnest and type of the fall of mystical Babylon, which will be a decisive stroke of divine justice, that will thoroughly vindicate oppressed truth and innocence, and open the way for the universal spread of true religion: see note on Isaiah 11:9.


Verse 15-16

Habakkuk 2:15-16. Wo unto him that giveth his neighbour drink — By the metaphorical expressions used in this verse is signified the perfidy of Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans, who gained advantage over other nations by cunning arts of policy, and taking them off their guard by pretences of friendship, and the like; just as some men gain advantage over others by persuading them to drink too much. Thou art filled with shame for glory, &c. — Thy glory shall now be turned into shame. Perhaps this might be intended to signify the rejoicing of the nations at the downfall of the Chaldean empire. Drink thou also — Now it is come to thy turn to drink of the cup of God’s anger. Be thou also naked, as thou hast made others naked. All this is spoken in derision, or by way of mockery. The cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee — Or, upon thee; that is, thou shalt drink out the whole cup, or experience all the indignation of God. “Grotius justly observes, that these two verses contain an allegory. The Chaldeans gave to the neighbouring nations the cup of idolatry and of deceitful alliance, and in return they received from Jehovah the cup of his fury.” — Newcome.


Verse 17

Habakkuk 2:17. For the violence of Lebanon [that is, the violence done to Lebanon] shall cover thee — That is, says Grotius, thou shalt suffer the punishment of having destroyed the temple, which is here called Lebanon, because it was built, in a great measure, with the cedars of Lebanon. And the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid — The relative which, added by our translators, obscures the text, which might be more plainly rendered, The spoil of (or, made by) beasts shall make them afraid, or make thee afraid, as the LXX. and Chaldee, with very little alteration, read the text. As thou hast spoiled other, without any sense of common humanity, so the army of the conqueror shall deal by thee, and shall tear thee in pieces as wild beasts do their prey. See Isaiah 13:15-18. Because of men’s blood — See note on Habakkuk 2:8.


Verse 18-19

Habakkuk 2:18-19. What profiteth the graven image — The last sin that the prophet takes notice of, for which God would execute his judgments upon Babylon, is idolatry. Compare Jeremiah 50:2; and Jeremiah 51:44; Jeremiah 51:47. But what he says was not intended to be confined to Nebuchadnezzar and the idols of Babylon: it is equally applicable to idols in general. What will they avail their worshippers in the day of danger, and when the Lord ariseth to take vengeance on them? The molten image, and a teacher of lies — Rather, a molten image, teaching lies. This was a very proper epithet for the image of an idol; because the worshippers of them thought that a deity, or a divine power, resided in them, when there was no such thing; and that God was like the work of men’s hands. That the maker of his work trusteth therein — Or, that the maker trusteth in his work; that any one should be so unreasonable and foolish as to trust in that as a god which he has made and fashioned with his own hands! To make him dumb idols — Which have mouths and speak not; which can neither hear nor answer his prayers, nor do him good or harm. Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver — They are beautified with a great deal of cost, on purpose to delude their ignorant worshippers, and make them fancy some divinity lodges within them. And there is no breath at all, &c. — They are altogether without life, sense, and motion.


Verse 20

Habakkuk 2:20. But the Lord is in his holy temple — But Jehovah, the true God, is not like one of these, but lives for ever in his holy temple, the heavens, from whence he beholds and governs all things, and is the fountain of being, life, power, and salvation to his people. Let all the earth keep silence before him — Or, as the LXX. render it, stand in awe, or fear before him. The consideration of his infinite perfections, his self-existence, independence, supremacy, immensity, eternity; his omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence; his unspotted holiness, his inviolable truth, and impartial justice; and especially his sovereign authority and dominion, should strike all men with a reverential awe, and should dispose them to the most perfect submission toward him; particularly when they see him executing his judgments in the world, as he would shortly do upon the Chaldeans. The expression is taken from the reverent behaviour which young persons, servants, and others are wont to manifest by keeping silence in the presence of their superiors. Or, it alludes to such a silence as is kept in courts of justice, when a judge pronounces the sentence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/habakkuk-2.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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