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Expositor's Bible Commentary

Habakkuk 1

 

 

Verses 1-17

Habakkuk 1:1-17

Habakkuk 1:2-17; Habakkuk 2:1-4 (or 8)

Yet it is the first piece which raises the most difficult questions. All admit that it is to be dated somewhere along the line of Jeremiah’s long career, c. 627-586. There is no doubt about the general trend of the argument: it is a plaint to God on the sufferings of the righteous under tyranny, with God’s answer. But the order and connection of the paragraphs of the argument are not clear. There is also difference of opinion as to who the tyrant is-native, Assyrian, or Chaldee; and this leads to a difference, of course, about the date, which ranges from the early years of Josiah to the end of Jehoiakim’s reign, or from about 630 to 597.

As the verses lie, their argument is this. In Habakkuk 1:2-4 Habakkuk asks the Lord how long the wicked are to oppress the righteous, to the paralyzing of the Torah, or revelation of His Law, and the making futile of judgment. For answer the Lord tells him, Habakkuk 1:5-11, to look round among the heathen: He is about to raise up the Chaldees to do His work, a people swift, self-reliant, irresistible. Upon which Habakkuk resumes his question, Habakkuk 1:12-17, how long will God suffer a tyrant who sweeps up the peoples into his net like fish? Is he to go on with this forever? In Habakkuk 2:1 Habakkuk prepares for an answer, which comes in Habakkuk 2:2-4 : let the prophet wait for the vision though it tarries; the proud oppressor cannot last, but the righteous shall live by his constancy, or faithfulness.

The difficulties are these. Who are the wicked oppressors in Habakkuk 1:2-4? Are they Jews, or some heathen nation? And what is the connection between Habakkuk 1:1-4 and Habakkuk 1:5-11? Are the Chaldees, who are described in the latter, raised up to punish the tyrant complained against in the former? To these questions three different sets of answers have been given.

First: the great majority of critics take the wrong complained of in Habakkuk 1:2-4 to be wrong done by unjust and cruel Jews to their countrymen, that is, civic disorder and violence, and believe that in Habakkuk 1:5-11 Jehovah is represented as raising up the Chaldees to punish the sin of Judah-a message which is pretty much the same as Jeremiah’s. But Habakkuk goes further: the Chaldees themselves with their cruelties aggravate his problem how God can suffer wrong, and he appeals again to God, Habakkuk 1:12-17. Are the Chaldees to be allowed to devastate forever? The answer is given, as above, in Habakkuk 2:1-4. Such is practically the view of Pusey, Delitzsch, Kleinert, Kuenen, Sinker, Driver, Orelli, Kirkpatrick, Wildeboer, and Davidson, a formidable league, and Davidson says "this is the most natural sense of the verses and of the words used in them." But these scholars differ as to the date. Pusey, Delitzsch, and Volck take the whole passage from Habakkuk 1:5 as prediction, and date it from before the rise of the Chaldee power in 625, attributing the internal wrongs of Judah described in Habakkuk 1:2-4 to Manasseh’s reign or the early years of Josiah. But the rest, on the grounds that the prophet shows some experience of the Chaldean methods of warfare, and that the account of the internal disorder in Judah does not suit Josiah’s reign, bring the passage down to the reign of Jehoiakim, 608-598, or of Jehoiachin, 597. Kleinert and Von Orelli date it before the battle of Carchemish, 605, in which the Chaldean Nebuchadrezzar wrested from Egypt the Empire of the Western Asia, on the ground that after that Habakkuk could not have called a Chaldean invasion of Judah incredible. [Habakkuk 1:5] But Kuenen, Driver, Kirkpatrick, Wildeboer, and Davidson date it after Carchemish. To Driver it must be immediately after, and before Judah became alarmed at the consequences to herself. To Davidson the description of the Chaldeans "is scarcely conceivable before the battle," "hardly one would think before the deportation of the people under Jehoiachin." This also is Kuenen’s view, who thinks that Judah must have suffered at least the first Chaldean raids, and he explains the use of an undoubted future in Habakkuk 1:5, "Lo, I am about to raise up the Chaldeans," as due to the prophet’s predilection for a dramatic style. "He sets himself in the past, and represents the already experienced chastisement [of Judah] as having been then announced by Jehovah. His contemporaries could not have mistaken his meaning."

Second: others, however, deny that Habakkuk 1:2-4 refers to the internal disorder of Judah, except as the effect of foreign tyranny. The "righteous" mentioned there are Israel as a whole, "the wicked" their heathen oppressors. So Hitzig, Ewald, Konig, and practically Smend. Ewald is so clear that Habakkuk ascribes no sin to Judah, that he says we might be led by this to assign the prophecy to the reign of the righteous Josiah; but he prefers, because of the vivid sense which the prophet betrays of actual experience of the Chaldees, to date the passage from the reign of Jehoiakim, and to explain Habakkuk’s silence about his people’s sinfulness as due to his overwhelming impression of Chaldean cruelty. Konig takes Habakkuk 1:2-4 as a general complaint of the violence that fills the prophet’s day, and Habakkuk 1:5-11 as a detailed description of the Chaldeans, the instruments of this violence. Habakkuk 1:5-11, therefore, give not the judgment upon the wrongs described in Habakkuk 1:2-4, but the explanation of them. Lebanon is already wasted by the Chaldeans; [Habakkuk 2:17] therefore the whole prophecy must be assigned to the days of Jehoiakim. Giesebrecht and Wellhausen adhere to the view that no sins of Judah are mentioned, but that the "righteous." and "wicked" of Habakkuk 1:4 are the same as in Habakkuk 1:13, viz., Israel and a heathen tyrant. But this leads them to dispute that the present order of the paragraphs of the prophecy is the right one. In Habakkuk 1:5 the Chaldeans are represented as about to be raised up for the first time, although their violence has already been described in Habakkuk 1:1-4, and in Habakkuk 1:12-17 these are already in full career. Moreover Habakkuk 1:12 follows on naturally to Habakkuk 1:4. Accordingly these critics would remove the section Habakkuk 1:5-11. Giesebrecht prefixes it to Habakkuk 1:1, and dates the whole passage from the Exile. Wellhausen calls Habakkuk 1:5-11 an older passage than the rest of the prophecy, and removes it altogether as not Habakkuk’s. To the latter he assigns what remains, Habakkuk 1:1-4; Habakkuk 1:12-17; Habakkuk 1:2 I-5, and dates it from the reign of Jehoiakim.

Third: from each of these groups of critics Budde of Strasburg borrows something, but so as to construct an arrangement of the verses, and to reach a date, for the whole, from which both differ. With Hitzig, Ewald, Konig, Smend, Giesebrecht, and Wellhausen he agrees that the violence complained of in Habakkuk 1:2-4 is that inflicted by a heathen oppressor, "the wicked," on the Jewish nation, the "righteous." But with Kuenen and others he holds that the Chaldeans are raised up, according to Habakkuk 1:5-11, to punish the violence complained of in Habakkuk 1:2-4 and again in Habakkuk 1:12-17. In these verses it is the ravages of another heathen power than the Chaldeans which Budde describes. The Chaldeans are still to come, and cannot be the same as the devastator whose long continued tyranny is described in Habakkuk 1:12-17. They are rather the power which is to punish him. He can only be the Assyrian. But if that be so, the proper place for the passage, Habakkuk 1:5-11, which describes the rise of the Chaldeans must be after the description of the Assyrian ravages in Habakkuk 1:12-17, and in the body of God’s answer to the prophet which we find in Habakkuk 2:2 ff. Budde therefore places Habakkuk 1:5-11 after Habakkuk 2:2-4. But if the Chaldeans are still to come, and Budde thinks that they are described vaguely and with a good deal of imagination, the prophecy thus arranged must fall somewhere between 625, when Nabopolassar the Chaldean made himself independent of Assyria and King of Babylon, and 607, when Assyria fell. That the prophet calls Judah "righteous" is proof that he wrote after the great Reform of 621; hence, too, his reference to Torah and Mishpat, [Habakkuk 1:4] and his complaint of the obstacles which Assyrian supremacy presented to their free course. As the Assyrian yoke appears not to have been felt anywhere in Judah by 608, Budde would fix the exact date of Habakkuk’s prophecy about 615. To these conclusions of Budde, Cornill, who in 1891 had very confidently assigned the prophecy of Habakkuk to the reign of Jehoiakim, gave his adherence in 1896.

Budde’s very able and ingenious argument has been subjected to a searching criticism by Professor Davidson, who emphasizes first the difficulty of accounting for the transposition of Habakkuk 1:5-11 from what Budde alleges to have been its original place after Habakkuk 2:4 to its present position in chapter 1. He points out that if Habakkuk 1:2-4; Habakkuk 1:12-17 and Habakkuk 2:5 ff. refer to the Assyrian, it is strange the latter is not once mentioned. Again, by 615 we may infer (though we know little of Assyrian history at this time) that the Assyrian’s hold on Judah was already too relaxed for the prophet to impute to him power to hinder the Law, especially as Josiah had begun to carry his reforms into the northern kingdom: and the knowledge of the Chaldeans displayed in Habakkuk 1:5-11 is too fresh and detailed to suit so early a date: it was possible only after the battle of Carchemish. And again, it is improbable that we have two different nations, as Budde thinks, described by the very similar phrases in Habakkuk 1:11, "his own power becomes his god," and in Habakkuk 1:16, "he sacrifices to his net." Again, Habakkuk 1:5-11 would not read quite naturally after Habakkuk 2:4. And in the woes pronounced on the oppressor it is not one nation, the Chaldeans, which are to spoil him, but all the remnant of the peoples. [Habakkuk 2:7-8] These objections are not inconsiderable. But are they conclusive? And if not, is any of the other theories of the prophecy less beset with difficulties? The objections are scarcely conclusive. We have no proof that the power of Assyria was altogether removed from Judah by 615; on the contrary, even in 608 Assyria was still the power with which Egypt went forth to contend for the empire of the world. Seven years earlier her hand may well have been strong upon Palestine. Again, by 615 the Chaldeans, a people famous in Western Asia for a long time, had been ten years independent: men in Palestine may have been familiar with their methods of warfare: at least it is impossible to say they were not. There is more weight in the objection drawn from the absence of the name of Assyria from all of the passages which Budde alleges describe it; nor do we get over all difficulties of text by inserting Habakkuk 1:5-11 between Habakkuk 2:4-5. Besides, how does Budde explain Habakkuk 1:12 b on the theory that it means Assyria? Is the clause not premature at that point? Does he propose to elide it, like Wellhausen? And in any case an erroneous transposition of the original is impossible to prove and difficult to account for. But have not the other theories of the Book of Habakkuk equally great difficulties? Surely, we cannot say that the "righteous" and the "wicked" in Habakkuk 1:4 mean something different from what they do in Habakkuk 1:13? But if this is impossible the construction of the book supported by the great majority of critics falls to the ground. Professor Davidson justly says that it has "something artificial in it" and "puts a strain on the natural sense." How can the Chaldeans be described in Habakkuk 1:5 as "just about to be raised up," and in Habakkuk 1:14-17 as already for a long time the devastators of earth? Ewald’s, Hitzig’s, and Konig’s views are equally beset by these difficulties; Konig’s exposition also "strains the natural sense." Everything, in fact, points to Habakkuk 1:5-11 being out of its proper place; it is no wonder that Giesebreeht, Wellhausen, and Budde independently arrived at this conclusion. Whether Budde be right in inserting Habakkuk 1:5. If after Habakkuk 2:4, there can be little doubt of the correctness of his views that Habakkuk 1:12-17 describe a heathen oppressor who is not the Chaldeans. Budde says this oppressor is Assyria. Can he be any one else? From 608 to 605 Judah was sorely beset by Egypt, who had overrun all Syria up to the Euphrates. The Egyptians killed Josiah, deposed his successor, and put their own vassal under a very heavy tribute; "gold and silver were exacted of the people of the land": the picture of distress in Habakkuk 1:1-4 might easily be that of Judah in these three terrible years. And if we assigned the prophecy to them, we should certainly give it a date at which the knowledge of the Chaldeans expressed in Habakkuk 1:5-11 was more probable than at Budde’s date of 615. But then does the description in chap. Habakkuk 1:14-17 suit Egypt so well as it does Assyria? We can hardly affirm this, until we know more of what Egypt did in those days, but it is very probable.

Therefore, the theory supported by the majority of critics being unnatural, we are, with our present meager knowledge of the time, flung back upon Budde’s interpretation that the prophet in Habakkuk 1:2-17; Habakkuk 2:1-4 appeals from oppression by a heathen power, which is not the Chaldean, but upon which the Chaldean shall bring the just vengeance of God. The tyrant is either Assyria up to about 615 or Egypt from 608 to 605, and there is not a little to be said for the latter date.

In arriving at so uncertain a conclusion about Habakkuk 1:1-17 - Habakkuk 2:4, we have but these consolations, that no other is possible in our present knowledge, and that the uncertainty will not hamper us much in our appreciation of Habakkuk’s spiritual attitude and poetic gifts.

FURTHER NOTE ON

Habakkuk 1:1-17 - Habakkuk 2:4

Since this chapter was in print Nowack’s "Die Kleinen Propheten" in the "Handkommentar z. A.T." has been published. He recognizes emphatically that the disputed passage about the Chaldeans, Habakkuk 1:5-9, is out of place where it lies (this against Kuenen and the other authorities cited above), and admits that it follows on, with a natural connection, to Habakkuk 2:4, to which Budde proposes to attach it. Nevertheless for other reasons, which he does not state, he regards Budde’s proposal as untenable; and reckons the disputed passage to be by another hand than Habakkuk’s, and intruded into the latter’s argument. Habakkuk’s argument he assigns to after 605; perhaps 590. The tyrant complained against would therefore be the Chaldean.-Driver in the 6th edition of his "Introduction" (1897) deems Budde’s argument "too ingenious," and holds by the older and most numerously supported argument (above).-On a review of the case in the light of these two discussions, the present writer holds to his opinion that Budde’s rearrangement, which he has adopted, offers the fewest difficulties.

THE PROPHET AS SCEPTIC

Habakkuk 1:1-17 - Habakkuk 2:4

OF the prophet Habakkuk we know nothing that is personal save his name - to our ears his somewhat odd name. It is the intensive form of a root which means to caress or embrace. More probably it was given to him as a child, than afterwards assumed as a symbol of his clinging to God.

Tradition says that Habakkuk was a priest, the son of Joshua, of the tribe of Levi, but this is only an inference from the late liturgical notes to the Psalm which has been appended to his prophecy. All that we know for certain is that he was a contemporary of Jeremiah, with a sensitiveness under wrong and impulses to question God which remind us of Jeremiah; but with a literary power which is quite his own. We may emphasize the latter, even though we recognize upon his writing the influence of Isaiah’s.

Habakkuk’s originality, however, is deeper than style. He is the earliest who is known to us of a new school of religion in Israel. He is called "prophet," but at first he does not adopt the attitude which is characteristic of the prophets. His face is set in an opposite direction to theirs. They address the nation Israel, on behalf of God: he rather speaks to God on behalf of Israel. Their task was Israel’s sin, the proclamation of God’s doom, and the offer of His grace to their penitence. Habakkuk’s task is God Himself, the effort to find out what He means by permitting tyranny and wrong. They attack the sins; he is the first to state the problems, of life. To him the prophetic revelation, the Torah, is complete: it has been codified in Deuteronomy and enforced by Josiah. Habakkuk’s business is not to add to it, but to ask why it does not work. Why does God suffer wrong to triumph, so that the Torah is paralyzed, and Mishpat, the prophetic "justice" or "judgment," comes to naught? The prophets travailed for Israel’s character-to get the people to love justice till justice prevailed among them: Habakkuk feels justice cannot prevail in Israel, because of the great disorder which God permits to fill the world. It is true that he arrives at a prophetic attitude, and before the end authoritatively declares God’s will; but he begins by searching for the latter, with an appreciation of the great obscurity cast over it by the facts of life. He complains to God, asks questions, and expostulates. This is the beginning of speculation in Israel. It does not go far: it is satisfied with stating questions to God; it does not, directly at least, state questions against Him. But Habakkuk at least feels that revelation is baffled by experience, that the facts of life bewilder a man who believes in the God whom the prophets have declared to Israel. As in Zephaniah prophecy begins to exhibit traces of apocalypse, so in Habakkuk we find it developing the first impulses of speculation.

We have seen that the course of events which troubles Habakkuk and renders the Torah ineffectual is somewhat obscure. On one interpretation of these two chapters, that which takes the present order of their verses as the original, Habakkuk asks why God is silent in face of the injustice which fills the whole horizon, [Habakkuk 1:1-4] is told to look round among the heathen and see how God is raising up the Chaldeans, [Habakkuk 1:5-11] presumably to punish this injustice (if it be Israel’s own) or to overthrow it (if Habakkuk 1:1-4 mean that it is inflicted on Israel by a foreign power). But the Chaldeans only aggravate the prophet’s problem; they themselves are a wicked and oppressive people: how can God suffer them? [Habakkuk 1:12-17] Then come the prophet’s waiting for an answer [Habakkuk 2:1] and the answer itself. [Habakkuk 2:2 ff.} Another interpretation takes the passage about the Chaldeans {Habakkuk 1:5-11] to be out of place where it now lies, removes it to after chapter 4 as a part of God’s answer to the prophet’s problem, and leaves the remainder of chapter1 as the description of the Assyrian oppression of Israel, baffling the Torah and perplexing the prophet’s faith in a Holy and Just God. Of these two views the former is, we have seen, somewhat artificial, and though the latter is by no means proved, the arguments for it are sufficient to justify us in re-arranging the verses of chapter 1-2:4 in accordance with its proposals.

"The Oracle which Habakkuk the Prophet Received by Vision. How long, O Jehovah, have I called and Thou hearest not? I cry to Thee. Wrong! and Thou sendest no help. Why make me look upon sorrow, And fill mine eyes with trouble? Violence and wrong are before me, Strife comes and quarrel arises. So the Law is benumbed, and judgment never gets forth: For the wicked beleaguers the righteous, So judgment comes forth perverted."

"Art not, Thou of old, Jehovah, my God, my Holy One? Purer of eyes than to behold evil, And that canst not gaze upon trouble! Why gazest Thou upon traitors, Art dumb when the wicked swallows him that is more righteous than he? Thou hast let men be made like fish of the sea, Like worms that have no ruler! He lifts the whole of it with his angle: Draws it in with his net, sweeps it in his drag-net: So rejoices and exults. So he sacrifices to his net, and offers incense to his drag-net; For by them is his portion fat, and his food rich. Shall he forever draw his sword, And ceaselessly, ruthlessly massacre nations?"

"Upon my watch-tower I will stand, And take my post on the rampart. I will watch to see what He will say to me, And what answer I get back to my plea".

"And Jehovah answered me and said: Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, That he may run who reads it".

"For the vision is for a time yet to be fixed, Yet it hurries to the end, and shall not fail: Though it linger, wait thou for it; Coming it shall come, and shall not be behind. Lo! swollen, not level is his soul within him; But the righteous shall live by his faithfulness. [Habakkuk 1:5-11] round among the heathen, and look well, Shudder and be shocked; For I am about to do a work in your days, Ye shall not believe it when told. For, lo, I am about to raise up the Kasdim, A people the most bitter and the most hasty, That traverse the breadths of the earth, To possess dwelling-places not their own. Awful and terrible are they; From themselves start their purpose and rising".

"Fleeter than leopards their steeds, Swifter than night-wolves. Their horsemen leap from afar; They swoop like the eagle a-haste to devour. All for wrong do they come: The set of their faces is forward, And they sweep up captives like sand. They-at kings do they scoff, And princes are sport to them. They-they laugh at each fortress, Heap dust up and take it! Then the wind shifts and they pass! But doomed are those whose own strength is their god!"

The difficulty of deciding between the various arrangements of the two chapters of Habakkuk does not, fortunately, prevent us from appreciating his argument. What he feels throughout (this is obvious, however you arrange his verses) is the tyranny of a great heathen power, be it Assyrian, Egyptian, or Chaldean. The prophet’s horizon is filled with Habakkuk 1:3; Israel thrown into disorder, revelation paralyzed, justice perverted. [Habakkuk 1:4] But, like Nahum, Habakkuk feels not for Israel alone. The tyrant has outraged humanity. [Habakkuk 1:13-17] He "sweeps peoples into his net," and as soon as he empties this, he fills it again "ceaselessly," as if there were no just God above. He exults in his vast cruelty, and has success so unbroken that he worships the very means of it. In itself such impiety is gross enough, but to a heart that believes in God it is a problem of exquisite pain. Habakkuk’s is the burden of the finest faith. He illustrates the great commonplace of religions doubt, that problems arise and become rigorous in proportion to the purity and tenderness of man’s conception of God. It is not the coarsest but the finest temperaments which are exposed to skepticism. Every advance in assurance of God or in appreciation of His character develops new perplexities in face of the facts of experience, and faith becomes her own most cruel troubler. Habakkuk’s questions are not due to any cooling of the religious temper in Israel, but are begotten of the very heat and ardor of prophecy in its encounter with experience. His tremulousness, for instance, is impossible without the high knowledge of God’s purity and faithfulness, which older prophets had achieved in Israel:-

"Art not Thou of old, O Lord, my God, my Holy One, Purer of eyes than to behold evil, And incapable of looking upon wrong?"

His despair is that which comes only from eager and persevering habits of prayer:-

"How long, O Lord, have I called and Thou hearest not! I cry to Thee of wrong and Thou givest no help!"

His questions, too, are bold with that sense of God’s absolute power, which flashed so bright in. Israel as to blind men’s eyes to all secondary and intermediate causes. "Thou," he says, -

"Thou hast made men like fishes of the sea, Like worms that have no ruler,"

boldly charging the Almighty in almost the temper of Job himself, with being the cause of the cruelty inflicted by the unchecked tyrant upon the nations; "for shall evil happen, and Jehovah not have done it?" Thus all through we perceive that Habakkuk’s trouble springs from the central founts of prophecy. This skepticism-if we may venture to give the name to the first motions in Israel’s mind of that temper which undoubtedly became skepticism-this skepticism was the inevitable heritage of prophecy: the stress and pain to which prophecy was forced by its own strong convictions in face of the facts of experience. Habakkuk, "the prophet," as he is called, stood in the direct line of his order, but just because of that he was the father also of Israel’s religious doubt.

But a discontent springing from sources so pure was surely the preparation of its own healing. In a verse of exquisite beauty the prophet describes the temper in which he trusted for an answer to all his doubts:-

"On my watch-tower will I stand, And take up my post on the rampart; I will watch to see what He says to me, And what answer I get back to my plea."

This verse is not to be passed over, as if its metaphors were merely for literary effect. They express rather the moral temper in which the prophet carries his doubt, or, to use New Testament language, "the good conscience, which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck." Nor is this temper patience only and a certain elevation of mind, nor only a fixed attention and sincere willingness to be answered. Through the chosen words there breathes a noble sense of responsibility. The prophet feels he has a post to hold, a rampart to guard. He knows the heritage of truth, won by the great minds of the past; and in a world seething with disorder, he will take his stand upon that and see what more his God will send him. At the very least, he will not indolently drift, but feel that he has a standpoint, however narrow, and bravely hold it. Such has ever been the attitude of the greatest skeptics-not only, let us repeat, earnestness and sincerity, but the recognition of duty towards the truth: the conviction that even the most tossed and troubled minds have somewhere a {missing Greek word} appointed of God, and upon it interests human and Divine to defend. Without such a conscience, skepticism, however intellectually gifted, will avail nothing. Men who drift never discover, never grasp aught. They are only dazzled by shifting gleams of the truth, only fretted and broken by experience.

Taking then his stand within the patient temper, but especially upon the conscience of his great order, the prophet waits for his answer and the healing of his trouble. The answer comes to him in the promise of "a Vision," which, though it seem to linger, will not be later than the time fixed by God. "A Vision" is something realized, experienced-something that will be as actual and present to the waiting prophet as the cruelty which now fills his sight. Obviously some series of historical events is meant, by which, in the course of trine, the unjust oppressor of the nations shall be overthrown and the righteous vindicated. Upon the re-arrangement of the text proposed by Budde, this series of events is the rise of the Chaldeans, and it is an argument in favor of his proposal that the promise of "a Vision" requires some such historical picture to follow it as we find in the description of the Chaldeans- Habakkuk 1:5-11. This, too, is explicitly introduced by terms of vision: "See among the nations and look round Yea, behold I am about to raise up the Kasdim." But before this vision is given, and for the uncertain interval of waiting ere the facts come to pass, the Lord enforces upon His watching servant the great moral principle that arrogance and tyranny cannot, from the nature of them, last, and that if the righteous be only patient he will survive them:-

"Lo, swollen, not level, is his soul within him; But the righteous shall live by his faithfulness."

We have already seen that the text of the first line of this couplet is uncertain. Yet the meaning is obvious, partly in the words themselves, and partly by their implied contrast with the second line. The soul of the wicked is a radically morbid thing: inflated, swollen (unless we should read perverted, which more plainly means the same thing), not level, not natural and normal. In the nature of things it cannot endure. "But the righteous shall live by his faithfulness." This word, wrongly translated faith by the Greek and other versions, is concentrated by Paul in his repeated quotation from the Greek [Romans 1:17,, Galatians 3:11] upon that single act of faith by which the sinner secures forgiveness and justification. With Habakkuk it is a wider term. ‘Emunah, from a verb meaning originally to be firm, is used in the Old Testament in the physical sense of steadfastness. So it is applied to the arms of Moses held up by Aaron and Hur over the battle with Amalek: "they were steadiness till the going down of the sun." [Exodus 17:12] It is also used of the faithful discharge of public office [2 Chronicles 19:9] and of fidelity as between man and Hosea 2:22 (Heb.). It is also faithful testimony, [Proverbs 14:5] equity in judgment, [Isaiah 11:5] truth in speech, [Proverbs 12:17; cf. Jeremiah 9:2] and sincerity or honest dealing. [Proverbs 12:22] Of course it has faith in God as its secret-the verb from which it is derived is the regular Hebrew term to believe-but it is rather the temper which faith produces of endurance, steadfastness, integrity. Let the righteous, however baffled his faith be by experience, hold on in loyalty to God and duty, and he shall live. Though St. Paul, as we have said, used the Greek rendering of "faith" for the enforcement of trust in God’s mercy through Jesus Christ as the secret of forgiveness and life it is rather to Habakkuk’s wider intention of patience and fidelity that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews returns in his fuller quotation of the verse: "For yet a little while and He that shall come will come and will not tarry; now the just shall live by faith, but if he draw back My soul shall have no pleasure in." [Hebrews 10:37-38]

Such, then is the tenor of the passage. In face of experience that baffles faith, the duty of Israel is patience in loyalty to God. In this the nascent skepticism of Israel received its first great commandment, and this it never forsook. Intellectual questions arose, of which Habakkuk’s were but the faintest foreboding-questions concerning not only the mission and destiny of the nation, but the very foundation of justice and the character of God Himself. Yet did no skeptic, however bold and however provoked, forsake his faithfulness. Even Job, when most audaciously arraigning the God of his experience, turned from Him to God as in his heart of hearts he believed He must be, experience notwithstanding. Even the Preacher, amid the aimless flux and drift which he finds in the universe, holds to the conclusion of the whole matter in a command, which better than any other defines the contents of the faithfulness enforced by Habakkuk: "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man." It has been the same with the great mass of the race. Repeatedly disappointed of their hopes, and crushed for ages beneath an intolerable tyranny, have they not exhibited the same heroic temper with which their first great questioner was endowed? Endurance, this above all others has been the quality of Israel: "though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." And, therefore, as Paul’s adaptation, "The just shall live by faith," has become the motto of evangelical Christianity, so we may say that Habakkuk’s original of it has been the motto and the fame of Judaism: "The righteous shall live by His faithfulness."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/habakkuk-1.html.

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