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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Habakkuk 2

 

 

Verse 1

THE PROPHET’S ANXIOUS WATCH THE DIVINE SOLUTION, Habakkuk 2:1-5.

1. The prophet carries out his determination to secure a divine solution.

Watch,… tower — The two clauses are not to be understood literally, as if the prophet had an elevated place or tower where, away from the noise, he might look toward heaven for a revelation; they are meant figuratively. As the watchman gazes into the distance from his watchtower (2 Samuel 18:24; 2 Kings 9:17), so the prophet will watch intently for an answer from heaven (Isaiah 21:8).

Watch to see — R.V., “look forth to see.” From the root of the verb used here is derived one of the titles of the prophets, watchman (Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17).

What I shall answer — First of all, to himself; then, to others who would be sure to consult the prophet concerning the significance of passing events. Peshitto reads, “what he (Jehovah) will answer,” which brings the clause into closer parallelism with the preceding, and is therefore accepted as original by many commentators.

When I am reproved — Better, with R.V., “concerning my complaint,” as expressed in Habakkuk 1:12-17.


Verse 2

2. The prophet gazes not in vain.

Vision — See on Nahum 1:1. Jehovah grants an answer in the form of an inner vision, but since the solution is intended for all who might be troubled in a similar manner, the prophet is exhorted to make it known to all by writing it upon tablets where the people could read it.

Tables — Literally, the tablets; either tablets such as are commonly used for inscriptions set up in public places, or tablets such as the prophet was accustomed to use for these or similar purposes.

Make it plain — Because it is an important message (compare Isaiah 8:1).

That he may run that readeth it — It is to be written so plainly that anyone hurrying by may read it, without being compelled to stop and study. There is no reason for doubting that the command was to be understood and carried out literally. Keil’s view, that “the words simply express the thought that the prophecy is to be laid to heart by all the people on account of its great importance, and that not merely in the present but in the future also,” does scant justice to the statements in Habakkuk 2:2-3.


Verse 3

Habakkuk 2:3 indicates the reason for the command. The writing down of the vision is necessary, because its fulfillment will be delayed; when it is fulfilled the tablets will serve as witnesses to the truthfulness of Jehovah and of his prophet (compare Isaiah 8:16-18).

The vision is yet for an appointed time — It relates not to the present, but to the time fixed by Jehovah for its realization, which is yet in the future (compare Daniel 8:19; Daniel 8:26; Daniel 10:14, etc.).

At the end it shall speak — Better, R.V., “it hasteth toward the end.” The end is not the “last days,” nor the fulfillment of the vision as such, but the time fixed for it. The oracle is thought of as possessing a vital energy of its own. “True prophecy,” says Hitzig, “is inspired, as it were, by an impulse to fulfill itself.”

Not lie — It will not prove false, but will surely be realized. In the rest of the verse the prophet is exhorted to wait patiently, for, though delayed, the vision will surely be realized.


Verse 4

Habakkuk 2:4 contains the oracle that the prophet is to write down. It is brief and enigmatic, but not unintelligible. 4a is translated more satisfactorily in R.V., “Behold his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him.” These words apply to the Chaldean. The righteous, or rather the destiny of the righteous, is described in the second part of the verse. Though in the one case the reference is to character, in the other to destiny, there seems insufficient reason for suspecting the accuracy of the text; the various emendations suggested do not improve it.

Lifted up [“puffed up”]… not upright — His successes and conquests have made him proud, presumptuous, insincere, and treacherous in his dealings with other nations. This is all the oracle says, but comparison with the second clause enables us to complete the thought. Because the Chaldean is puffed up, glories in his might alone, and is insincere and treacherous, he lacks the principles and elements which alone assure permanence; he is doomed to perish. If destruction overtakes the Chaldeans in the end, the problem of the prophet is at least partly solved.

The second clause continues the solution.

The just [“righteous”] shall live by his faith — Margin R.V., “in his faithfulness.” The righteous of this verse is identical with the “righteous” of Habakkuk 1:13, whose present and imminent lot causes the complaint of the prophet. While it is to be understood primarily of the righteous in Israel, it includes also those among the nations oppressed by the Chaldeans; and the assertion is equally true of the righteous everywhere and in all ages. “We shall not die” was Habakkuk’s cry of confidence (Habakkuk 1:12); Jehovah responds with a definite promise of life. Temporarily the ways of Jehovah may seem unintelligible, but a time of reckoning will come, when the godless oppressor will meet his doom, while the faithful oppressed, now delivered, will rejoice in new life. This is the vision and with it is joined the promise (Habakkuk 2:3) that it will surely be realized. The prophet seems satisfied.

In Galatians 3:11, Paul quotes the words of Habakkuk, but the Hebrew word here translated “faith” or “faithfulness” is not quite identical in meaning with the New Testament expression, which denotes faith as an active, inner principle of the spiritual life. In fact, the Hebrew has no word that exactly expresses the New Testament idea of faith. The Hebrew word means steadfastness, moral trustworthiness, fidelity, integrity of character under all provocations; but since these virtues in the case of the Israelites, especially in the time of adversity, would spring chiefly from their loyalty to Jehovah, their confidence in him, and their trust in the ultimate triumph of the good, the New Testament idea is not foreign to the Old Testament expression. For the righteous his integrity and fidelity constitute elements of permanency; they cannot perish; they will endure forever. This, then, is the reply to the prophet’s complaint: oppression, pride, insincerity will lead to destruction, integrity and faithfulness to life everlasting.


Verse 5

Habakkuk 2:5 seems to be an oracle by itself, though in thought it is an expansion of Habakkuk 2:4 a, describing, as it does, the character of the Chaldean. But, while the general import of the verse is clear, the interpretation of details is uncertain; and it seems almost beyond doubt that the text has suffered in transmission. A few simple changes would produce the following: “Yea, moreover, treacherous as wine is he, a haughty man, who keepeth not at home, who enlargeth his desire as Sheol; he is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all peoples.” These words are a description of the lust of conquest that impels the Chaldeans to overrun the whole earth and of the treachery they practice when dealing with other nations.

Hell — Better, R.V., “Sheol.” The abode of the departed; it is pictured here, as elsewhere, as a devouring, insatiable monster (see on Hosea 13:14; compare Isaiah 5:14). As Sheol seeks to devour all, so the Chaldeans are not satisfied until all nations have become their prey.

Habakkuk 2:5 marks the transition to the five woes in Habakkuk 2:6-20. Now the Chaldean is the triumphant conqueror, but his doom is determined in the heavenly councils; therefore the oppressed nations may begin their song of rejoicing over his downfall. The ancient Babylonian Kings took comparatively little interest in war; but the Chaldean power, which was the heir of Assyria, continued the latter’s cruel policy.


Verse 6

First woe — upon lust of conquest and plunder, Habakkuk 2:6-8.

Habakkuk 2:6 a introduces the oppressed who will pronounce the woes. The utterances begin with “woe” in 6b. Throughout the song the Chaldean power is personified as an individual (see Introduction, p. 472). The nations will not submit forever.

All these — All the wronged nations.

Against him — The Chaldean oppressor.

Parable — The primary meaning of the Hebrew word seems to be “likeness” or “identity”; hence it came to be applied to any saying containing a comparison or similitude. In a more general sense it is used of any figurative speech or song — in some places of a taunt-song (Isaiah 14:4); so here.

Taunting proverb — Literally, a dark saying; margin, “riddle”; here practically synonymous with the preceding, a taunt-song. The thought is that the nations will make the Chaldeans, as examples of fallen greatness and pride, objects of taunting proverbs and comparisons, such as are found in Habakkuk 2:6-20.

Woe — With this word begins the first “parable.” Each of the five is directed against a specific crime, the first against lust of conquest and plunder.

Increaseth that which is not his — He seizes the lands and possessions of other nations (compare Habakkuk 1:6; Habakkuk 1:9; Habakkuk 1:15).

How long? — “A sigh appended to the woe.” How long will he be permitted to carry out this policy?

Ladeth himself with thick clay — This is a possible translation, but the context favors the reading of R.V., “with pledges.” The wealth accumulated by the Chaldeans is represented as a mass of pledges which they have taken from the nations like merciless usurers. But the time will come when the plundered nations will rise in wrath and compel the Chaldeans to return these pledges to their proper owners. In this connection it may be interesting to compare the boast of Nebuchadnezzar: “I have amassed silver, gold, metals, precious stones of all kinds and of all values, a collection of objects of great price, immense treasures.”


Verses 6-20

TAUNT-SONG OVER THE FALL OF THE CHALDEANS, Habakkuk 2:6-20.

In Habakkuk 2:6-20, the prophet introduces the nations that are now suffering from the oppressions of the Chaldeans as taking up a parable or song against the oppressor about to be crushed. The song is in the form of five woes upon (1) lust of conquest and plunder; (2) rapacity; (3) self-glorification; (4) oppression; (5) idolatry. These woes are placed in the mouth of the nations; in reality the prophet is the speaker.


Verse 7

7. Retribution will surely come; the nations will not submit forever.

They… that shall bite thee — The verb has a twofold meaning, “to bite” (Genesis 49:17; Numbers 21:8-9), and “to exact usury” (compare margin R.V.; Deuteronomy 23:20). Either sense fits admirably in this place. The use of ambiguous words is perfectly legitimate in a proverb-song. Since the verb is in the participial form it might be translated literally, “the biter” or “the (cruel) creditor.” The nations are so called because, on the one hand, the Chaldeans have taken their possessions and thus have become their debtors; on the other, the nations will take vengeance, they will bite and harass them.

Vex thee — Margin R.V., “toss thee to and fro.” In Arabic the verb is used of the shaking of trees by the wind; here of the nations that will give the Chaldeans no rest or peace; they will drive them hither and thither until finally they will expel them from their possessions.

Shalt be for booties — The wealth of the oppressor will fall into the hands of the angry nations.


Verse 8

Habakkuk 2:8 justifies the destruction of the Chaldeans, which is only just retribution for the cruelties perpetrated by them.

All the remnant of the people — A threefold interpretation is possible: (1) those of the subdued nations who have survived the oppression and slaughter; (2) the nations with the exception of the Chaldeans, with no reference to any previous contact with the latter (in this case the translation “rest” would be preferable to “remnant”); (3) the nations that were able to withstand the Chaldeans, in distinction from those that were conquered. The first is to be preferred. The oppressed nations will rise and throw off the yoke.

Men’s blood — The blood wantonly shed in the pursuit of a policy of conquest.

Violence — See Habakkuk 1:9.

Land — The reference is not to the land of Israel alone, but to the lands of all the nations that have suffered; hence, “land” must be understood in a collective sense, or the translation might be changed to “earth”; the whole earth has experienced their violence (Jeremiah 50:23; Jeremiah 51:7; Jeremiah 51:25).

City — This cannot be restricted to Jerusalem or to any other particular city; it also is to be understood collectively. As the Chaldeans have spoiled others, so they will be spoiled in turn.


Verse 9

9. Coveteth an evil covetousness — Better R.V., “getteth an evil gain.” The vast spoil taken from the nations by evil and illegitimate means.

To his house — Not the palace, but the entire land and nation (see on Hosea 8:1). It was for the purpose of enriching and exalting the nation that the conquests were undertaken.

Set his nest on high — A figure expressing the purpose of establishing his power forever (Numbers 24:21; Obadiah 1:4). As the eagle sets his nest on high to protect himself and his young against attacks, so the Chaldean seeks to fortify his position, that he may escape harm forever.

From the power of evil — Not the “evil one,” but any possible attack or calamity (Psalms 49:6; Isaiah 31:2).


Verses 9-11

Woe upon rapacity, Habakkuk 2:9-11.

In this stanza the Chaldeans are represented as a covetous man who builds his house with blood and violence, and seeks to store there all kinds of treasures, that he may be “delivered from the power of the evil,” and be safe as a bird in his nest on high. But he cannot escape judgment; the very stones and beams of the house cry to heaven for vengeance.


Verse 10

10. “Man proposes, God disposes.” The Chaldean disregarded the divine purpose. He thought only of his own interest and exaltation, but in doing so he prepared the way for his fall.

Consulted [“devised”] shame — He sought to bring honor to his dynasty and nation; instead of realizing his ambition, his lust of conquest and rapacity will result in ruin and shame (Jeremiah 7:19). LXX. reads, “I will devise.”

By cutting off many people [“peoples”] — LXX. co-ordinates this with the preceding clause and reads, “thou hast cut off many peoples.” The ordinary English translation gives good sense and is not impossible, but it would be in better accord with Hebrew usage to take the infinitive, literally, “to cut off,” as object of “devised,” so as to read “Thou hast devised shame to thy house, to cut off many peoples.”

And hast sinned against thy soul — By cutting off the many peoples he expected to receive glory and honor; in reality he endangered his very existence. Soul is used, as frequently in the Old Testament, in the sense of life. Some prefer to render the words as a circumstantial clause, “while thou art sinning against thy soul.” He devised to cut off the nations, while in reality he injured himself. The construction is peculiar and the text may be corrupt, but there can be no doubt as to the general sense.


Verse 11

Habakkuk 2:11 gives the reason for the sentence announced in Habakkuk 2:10. Jehovah cannot overlook the wrongdoing, for the very stones and beams in the house built with blood cry out against the violence practiced in procuring them.

Shall answer it — Shall re-echo the cry sent up by the stones.

Woe upon the building of cities with the blood and property of strangers, Habakkuk 2:12-14.

The third woe is a continuation of the second; the latter refers to the building of the empire in general, the former to the extensive building enterprises throughout the land. “The prophet sees the city in process of extension, bands of captives, Jews and Gentiles, bleeding and dying under the blows of their drivers, and he realizes the fraudful dealings by which the treasures expended in the erection of enormous fortifications have been amassed.”


Verse 12

12. Town… city — Synonymous; they cannot be restricted to the capital, but include cities scattered throughout the empire, wherever building enterprises were carried on.

Blood,… iniquity — Blood was shed and iniquity done in subduing the nations, in tearing them from their homes and transporting them to Babylonia, and in compelling them to assist in the extensive building enterprises of which the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar give a fair idea. The sentiment expressed here is of universal application, but the prophet has in mind primarily the Chaldeans (compare Micah 3:10; Jeremiah 22:13).


Verse 13

13. Jehovah has decreed the destruction.

Behold, is it not of Jehovah — Is it not purposed by Jehovah? For Jehovah of hosts see on Hosea 12:5.

The people… the people — Better, R.V., “the peoples… the nations”; that is, the nations subdued by the Chaldeans.

Labor in the very fire — R.V., “for the fire”; literally, for the need of the fire. Jehovah has purposed to give all the works of their hands a prey to the flames.

For very vanity — In vain. The judgment of Jehovah will bring all they have done to naught. Judgment upon Babylon is announced in similar terms in Jeremiah 51:58, but it is not certain that there is a direct literary dependence of the one passage upon the other. Nowack, followed by Marti, thinks that the words are a free reproduction of Jeremiah 51:58, and he renders the first sentence, “Behold, is not of Jehovah of hosts the word”; which he understands as an introduction to the quotation. If this passage is dependent upon Jeremiah 51:58, Nowack is right in considering it a later addition, but there is insufficient evidence for Nowack’s contention.


Verse 14

Habakkuk 2:14 gives an additional reason for the overthrow of the Chaldeans. Jehovah has purposed to establish his universal kingdom upon earth; to make room for this kingdom of peace and righteousness the cruel and warlike Chaldean must be retired from the scene of action.

The knowledge of the glory of Jehovah — The glory of Jehovah is the divine manifestation in nature, in history, in revelation; here in the events connected with the overthrow of the Chaldeans. These are intended to give the whole world a more adequate idea of the nature and character of Jehovah.

As the waters cover the sea — A picture of overflowing abundance (compare Isaiah 11:9). The overthrow of the mighty world conqueror will be so remarkable that the news of it will spread far and wide (compare Psalms 126:2).


Verses 15-17

Woe upon cruelty toward other nations, Habakkuk 2:15-17.

Habakkuk 2:15 presents a figurative description of the craftiness, cruelty, and cunning by the use of which the Chaldeans have reduced the nations to helplessness. The picture is that of a man giving poisonous or intoxicating drink to another, for the express purpose of taking delight in his shame (Genesis 9:21), or taking advantage of him. But the oppressor will be compelled to drink of the same cup and suffer shame, only in an intensified form (Habakkuk 2:16-17).

The thought of Habakkuk 2:15 is clear, but there is some uncertainty as to details.

That giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him — The meaning of some of the words is uncertain; hence the difference between A.V. and R.V., “that giveth his neighbor drink, to thee that addest thy venom.” The grammatical construction differs from that in the preceding woes (Habakkuk 2:6; Habakkuk 2:9; Habakkuk 2:12). The meaning of the verb translated “add” or “puttest” is uncertain; the translation “bottle” requires a change of vowel points; on the other hand, the expression “to add venom” is peculiar. This accumulation of peculiarities has led most scholars to suspect a corruption of the text, and various emendations have been attempted. That of Wellhausen is the simplest; it requires but slight alterations, removes the difficulties, and gives a very satisfactory sense: “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink out of the cup of his wrath, and maketh him drunken also” (compare Zechariah 12:2). The cup of wrath is one offered in wrath, which, therefore, does not contain a pleasant, refreshing drink, but one bitter and destructive. The cruel, heartless man offers this cup and compels his enemy to drink it to the dregs, until he becomes helpless in his intoxication. An apt illustration of the manner in which the Chaldeans treated other nations.

That thou mayest look on their nakedness — An indication of the shameful purpose inspiring the act. The one who gives the drink is the Chaldean, those who drink it are the nations; the prostrate condition of the drunken man represents the pitiful condition of the conquered nations, the uncovering of the nakedness suggests the depth of ignominy the conquered nations were made to suffer (Nahum 3:5).

Habakkuk 2:16 announces the divine judgment upon the Chaldean; he hoped to exalt himself by bringing shame upon others, and temporarily his hopes appear to be realized, but in the end the ignominy will return upon his own head.

Thou art filled with shame for glory — R.V., “with shame, and not glory.” A somewhat freer rendering expresses the thought more clearly, “Thou art filled with shame instead of glory.” The Chaldean’s object in conquest was to win glory; instead he has brought upon himself shame, for he must suffer the same treatment which he has accorded to others.

Drink thou — The cup of the divine wrath.

Let thy foreskin be uncovered — R.V., “be as one uncircumcised.” Here equivalent to “show thy nakedness.” He compelled others to do this (Habakkuk 2:15). LXX. and other ancient versions read “stagger” instead of “let thy foreskin be uncovered”; the whole clause, “drink thou also and stagger,” which may be original (Nahum 2:4; Zechariah 12:2).

The cup of Jehovah’s right hand — Thus far he has compelled the nations to drink the cup he handed them, now he must take from Jehovah’s right hand the cup containing a similar drink.

Shameful spewing — R.V., “foul shame.” The translation of A.V. is due to the erroneous dividing of one word into two; it is one word, an intensive form of the ordinary word for shame.

Shall be on thy glory — Shall cover it so that it is seen no more; it will entirely displace it.

R.V. expresses more clearly the thought of 17a: “For the violence done to Lebanon shall cover thee, and the destruction of the beasts, which made them afraid.”

The violence of [“done to”] Lebanon — This might be understood as a figurative representation of the devastation of Palestine; it is more likely, however, that it is meant literally. The violence is that done to Lebanon by cutting down its stately cedars for use in building enterprises. The inscriptions of both Assyrian and Chaldean kings state that the cedar wood was brought from great distances — sometimes Mount Lebanon is mentioned by name — to be used in the erection of temples and palaces. The more extensive the building enterprises, the greater the violence to Lebanon. The use of the cedars of Lebanon in the building of heathen temples may have been considered by the Israelites an act of profanity (Isaiah 14:8).

Shall cover thee — Shall return upon thine own head (Obadiah 1:10; Jeremiah 3:25).

The spoil of beasts [“the destruction of the beasts”] — That is, of Lebanon. The inscriptions and monuments reveal what enthusiastic hunters were the kings of the East.

The invasion of Lebanon for such purposes may also have been considered desecration.

Which made them afraid — The destruction which made afraid the beasts of Lebanon shall return upon the Chaldean’s own head. Though this thought, which can be had from the present Hebrew text, is not unsuitable, many commentators prefer the reading of some of the ancient versions, “and the destruction of the beasts shall make thee afraid.”

The refrain is repeated from Habakkuk 2:11.


Verse 18

18. What profiteth — A rhetorical question, equivalent to “It profiteth nothing”; the idols can render no help in the hour of calamity (Amos 2:4; 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 44:10).

Graven image — See on Micah 5:13.

Molten image — See on Nahum 1:14.

The maker thereof hath graven it — An expression of contempt; they are only the work of man; how can they be of any use?

Teacher of lies — Not the priest or prophet of the idol (Isaiah 9:15; compare Micah 3:11), but the idol itself (Amos 2:4; Zechariah 10:2), so called in contrast with Jehovah whose word is faithful and true.

To make dumb idols — Literally, dumb nothings (Isaiah 46:5-7; compare 1 Corinthians 12:2). It is foolish to trust in idols; it is foolish even to make them, for the maker cannot put life into them.


Verses 18-20

Woe upon idolatry, 18-20.

The last strophe is unlike the preceding in that the “woe” does not stand at the beginning, but at the opening of Habakkuk 2:19. In order to restore similarity many commentators place 19a, “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!” before Habakkuk 2:18. This arrangement, 19a, 18, 19b, 20, would bring this strophe into accord with the four preceding, and would give a more satisfactory logical arrangement; but that it was the original order cannot be proved; if it was, the present order cannot be accounted for very easily, unless, with Nowack, we assume that Habakkuk 2:18 is a later marginal note, which was inserted in the text in the wrong place.

For this assumption there is insufficient evidence, and the omission of Habakkuk 2:18 would make the strophe too brief.


Verse 19

19. Woe — To him who puts his trust into these lifeless nothings.

Awake — From slumber and inactivity (1 Kings 18:27).

Arise — To help and deliver. Appeals addressed to Jehovah would receive an answer (Psalms 35:23; Psalms 44:23), but the idols can neither hear nor reply.

It shall teach — Better, R.V., “Shall this teach?” A question or exclamation of astonishment at the delusion. Teach is here equivalent to respond to the appeal to show a way of escape from the calamity. The prophet immediately makes it plain why help need not be expected. They have no life in themselves, how can they preserve the life of others?

Laid over — The word occurs only here, hence its meaning is not quite certain; the reference seems to be to the overlaying of idols made of wood or other cheap material with gold or silver.

No breath — The spirit of life is entirely absent (Jeremiah 10:4 ff.; Isaiah 44:9 ff.).


Verse 20

20. From the idols the prophet turns to Jehovah, to emphasize the contrast between the two (compare Isaiah 46).

His holy temple — The interpretation of this expression suggested by Nowack, “in the midst of his people,” is not inappropriate, and yet it is more natural to understand it of the heavenly dwelling place of Jehovah (Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 66:1), from which he watches the affairs of men and goes forth to manifest himself in judgment (Micah 1:2-3).

Let all the earth keep silence before him — In the presence of the almighty and infinite God it is proper to wait in awe and reverence, to see what he may do (Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13).

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/habakkuk-2.html. 1874-1909.

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