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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Habakkuk 1

 

 

Verses 1-17

EXPOSITION

Verse 1:1-2:20

Part I. JUDGMENT UPON THE EVIL, IN THE FORM OF A COLLOQUY BETWEEN THE PROPHET AND GOD.

Habakkuk 1:1

§ 1. The inscription of the book. The burden (see note on Nahum 1:1). The prophet (Habakkuk 3:1). This title, which is added in the inscriptions only to the names of Haggai and Zechariah, and cursorily to that of Jeremiah (46, 47; 50.), implies that he exercised the practical office of prophet, and was well known; and, as Pusey thinks, Habakkuk appended it hero on account of the form in which his prophecy is cast, as being addressed almost entirely to God or the Chaldeans, not to his own people. Did see. In prophetic vision (see note on Amos 1:1).

Habakkuk 1:2-4

2. The prophet complains to God of the iniquity of his own nation, and its consequence.

Habakkuk 1:2

Shall I cry; Septuagint, κέκραξομαι. The Hebrew is taken to imply that the prophet had long been complaining of the moral depravity of Judah, and calling for help against it There is no reference here, as Ewald fancies, to acts of violence committed by the Chaldeans, who, in fact, are announced as coming to chastise the wickedness of the chosen people (Habakkuk 1:6). And thou wilt not hear! The continuance of evil unchecked is an anomaly in the prophet's eye; and, putting himself in the position of the righteous among the people, he asks how long this is to last. Even cry out unto thee of violence; better, I cry out unto thee, Violence. A similar construction is found in Job 19:7; Jeremiah 20:8. "Violence" includes all manner of wrong done to one's neighbour. Septuagint, βοήσομαι πρὸς σὲ ἀδικούμενος, "I will cry unto thee being wronged," as if the wrong was done to the prophet himself. So the Vulgate, Vociferabor ad te vim patiens. But Habakkuk doubtless speaks in the person of the righteous, grieved at the wickedness he sees around, and the more perplexed as the Law led him to look for temporal rewards and punishments, if in the case of individuals, much more in that of the chosen nation (Leviticus 26:1-46; passim).

Habakkuk 1:3

Why dost thou show me—Why dost thou let me see daily with my own eyes—iniquity abounding, the very evil which Balaam says (Numbers 23:21) the Lord had not found in Israel? Cause me to behold grievance. This should be, Dost thou look upon perverseness? He asks how God can look on this evil and leave it unpunished. The LXX. and the Vulgate translate the word amal "trouble," or "labour;" Keil, "distress." In this case it means the trouble and distress which a man inflicts on others, as wrong doing seems to be generally spoken of. Spoiling and violence are before me. "Spoiling" is robbery that causes desolation. "Violence" is conduct that wrongs one's neighbour. The two words are often joined; e.g. Jeremiah 6:7; Amos 3:10. Vulgate, praedam et injustitiam. These are continually coming before the prophet's eyes. There are that raise up strife and contention; better, there is strife, and contention is raised. This refers to the abuse of the Law by grasping, quarrelsome nobles. Septuagint, "Against me judgment hath gone, and the judge receiveth bribes." So the Syriac and Arabic. The Vulgate gives, Factum est judicium, et contradictio potentior, where judicium is used in a bad sense.

Habakkuk 1:4

Therefore. Because God has not interfered to put an end to this iniquity, or because of the want of righteous judges, the following consequences ensue. The Law is slacked. The Law. Torah, the revealed code which governed the moral, domestic, and political life, "is chilled," is benumbed (Genesis 45:26), is no longer of any force or efficacy, is become a dead letter. διασκέδασται "is dispersed"; lacerata est (Vulgate). Judgment doth never go forth; i.e. right is powerless, as if it had never been; justice never shows itself in such a case. Septuagint, οὐ διεξάγεται εἰς τέλος, "proceedeth not effectually; ' so the Vulgate. The rendering, "goeth not forth unto victory," given by the Syriac, is not so suitable; "unto truth" is a mistake arising from referring the word to a wrong root. Doth compass about. In a hostile sense, with threats and treachery ( 20:43; Psalms 22:13). Septuagint, καταδυναστεύει, "prevails;" Vulgate, praevalet adversus. Therefore. Because the righteous are unable to act as they desire, being opposed by the wicked. Wrong judgment proceedeth; rather, judgment goeth forth perverted. Eight, or what is so called, when it does come forth, is distorted, wrested, so as to be right no more.

Habakkuk 1:5-11

§ 3. To this appeal answers that he will send the Chaldeans to punish the evil doers with a terrible vengeance; but rinse, his instruments, shall themselves offend by pride and impiety.

Habakkuk 1:5

Behold ye among the heathen; the nations. God, in answer, bids the prophet and his people look among the nations for those who shall punish the iniquities of which he complains. I will use a heathen nation, he says, as my instrument to chastise the sinners in Judaea; and you shall see that I have not disregarded the evil that is rife among you. Some commentators suppose that the impious are addressed; but Habakkuk spoke in the name and person of the righteous, and to them the answer must be directed. The LXX, gives, ἴδετε, οἱ καταφρονηταί, "Behold, ye despisers," which is justifiable. St. Paul quotes the Greek Version, Acts 13:41, in his sermon at Antioch in the Jewish synagogue, warning those who despised the gospel This was sufficiently close to the Hebrew for his purpose. And regard, and wonder marvellously. They are to wonder because the work is as terrible as it is unexpected. The LXX. (quoted by St. Paul, loc. cit.) adds, καὶ ἀφανίσθητε, "and perish," or rather, "be stupefied by astonishment," die of amazement. I will work; I work. The pronoun is not expressed, but must be supplied from Acts 13:6. It is God who sends the avengers. In your days. The prophet had asked (Acts 13:2), "How long?" The answer is that those now living should see the chastisement (see Introduction, § III.). Which ye will not believe. If ye heard of it as happening elsewhere, ye would not give credit to it; the punishment itself and its executors are both unexpected (comp. Lamentations 4:12).

Habakkuk 1:6

The executors of the Divine vengeance are now plainly announced. I raise up. God does it; he uses the power and passion of men to work out his designs (1 Kings 11:14, 1 Kings 11:23; Amos 6:14). The Chaldeans; Kasidim. By this appellation the prophets signify the soldiers or inhabitants of Babylon, which won its independence and commenced its wonderfully rapid career of conquest after the tall of Nineveh, between B.C. 626 and 608. At the time when Habakkuk wrote the Chaldeans had not appeared in Judaea, and no apprehension of danger from them was entertained. Bitter and hasty. The former epithet refers to their cruelty and ferocity (comp. Isaiah 14:6; Jeremiah 6:23; Jeremiah 50:42). They are called "hasty," as being vehement and impetuous in attack and rapid in movement. Which shall march through the breadth of the land; which marcheth through the breadths of the earth. The statement explains the general character of the Chaldeans, and points to the foreign conquests of Nebuchadnezzar. LXX; τὸ πορευόμενον ἐπὶ τὰ πλάτη τῆς γῆς (comp. Revelation 20:9).

Habakkuk 1:7

They. The Hebrew is singular throughout. The disposition of the people, as of one man, is depicted. Terrible; exciting terror, as Song of Solomon 6:4, Song of Solomon 6:10. Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves; his judgment and his eminence are from himself. The LXX. translates the two nouns κρίμα and λῆμμα: Vulgate, judicium and onus. The meaning is that the Chaldeans own no master, have no rule of right but their own will, attribute their glory and superiority to their own power and skill (comp. Daniel 4:1-37 :130). They are like Achilles in Horace, 'Ep. ad Pison.,' 121, etc.—

"Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,

Jura neget sibi nata, nihil non arroget armis."

Hitzig quotes AEschyl. 'Prom.,' 186, παρ ἑαυτῷ τό δίκαιον ἔχων, "Holding as justice what he deemeth so."

Habakkuk 1:8

Their horses, etc. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:13) compares their horses to eagles (comp. Job 39:19, etc.). The punishment predicted in Deuteronomy 28:49, etc; is to come upon the Jews. We often read of the cavalry and chariots of the Chaldeans (Jeremiah 4:29; Jeremiah 6:23; Ezekiel 23:23, Ezekiel 23:24). Evening wolves. Wolves that prowl for food in the evening, and are then fiercest (Jeremiah 5:6; Zephaniah 3:3). Septuagint (with a different pointing), "wolves of Arabia." Their horsemen shall spread themselves. The verb is also rendered, "bear themselves proudly," or "gallop." Septuagint, ἐξιππάσονται. The Anglican Version seems correct implying that the cavalry, like Cossacks or Uhlans, swept the whole country for plunder. The verbs throughout Deuteronomy 28:8-11 should be rendered in the present tense. From far. From Babylonia (Isaiah 39:3). The preceding clause was of general import; the present one refers to the invasion of Judaea. As the eagle. This is a favourite comparison of Jeremiah, as quoted above (comp. also Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; Lamentations 4:19).

Habakkuk 1:9

They shall come all for violence. All, every one of the invaders, come for violence—to repay that violence of which Habakkuk complained (verse 2). Septuagint, συντέλεια εἰς ἀσεβεῖς ἥξει, "An end shall come upon the impious;" Vulgate, Omnes ad praedam venient. Their faces shall sup up as the east wind. The word translated "shall sup up" occasions perplexity, being an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον. The Anglican rendering is virtually supported by other versions, e.g. Symmachus, Chaldee, and Syriac. The Vulgate, too, gives, facies eorum ventus urens, which Jerome explains, "As at the blast of a burning wind all green things dry up, so at the sight of these men all shall be wasted." This is the meaning of the Anglican Version, which, however, might be improved thus: The aspect of their faces is as the east wind. The Revisers have, Their faces are set eagerly as the east wind, which does not seem very intelligible. Other renderings are, "the endeavour," or "desire of their faces is directed to the east," or "forwards." (This rendering has the support of Orelli and others.) "The crowd of their faces," as equivalent to "the multitude of the army" which is not a Hebrew phrase found elsewhere. Septuagint, ἀνθεστηκότας (agreeing with ἀσεβεῖς in the first clause) προσώποις αὐτῶν ἐξεναντίας, "resisting with their adverse front." The effects of the east wind are often noted in Scripture; e.g. Genesis 41:6, Genesis 41:23; Job 27:21; Hosea 13:15. They shall gather the captivity as the sand. "He collects the captives as sand"—a hyperbolical expression to denote the numbers of captives and the quantity of booty taken. The mention of the east wind brings the thought of the terrible simoom, with its columns of sand.

Habakkuk 1:10

And they shall scoff, etc.; it, or he, scoffeth at kings. The Chaldean nation makes light of the power and persons of kings. Compare Nebuchadnezzar's treatment of Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:6; 2 Kings 24:1, 2 Kings 24:3; Jeremiah 22:19) and Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12, 2 Kings 24:15). They shall deride every strong hold. The strongest fortress is no impediment to them. They shall heap dust. This refers to the raising of a mound or embankment for the purpose of attacking a city. In the Assyrian monuments one often sees representations of these mounds, or of inclined planes constructed to facilitate the approach of the battering ram.

Habakkuk 1:11

Then shall his mind change; τότε μεταβαλεῖ τὸ πνεῦμα; Tunc mutabitur spiritus (Vulgate). From the ease and extent of his conquests the Chaldean gains fresh spirit. But it is best to translate differently, Then he sweepeth on as a wind. The Chaldean's inroad is compared to a tempestuous wind, which carries all before it. And he shall pass over. This is explained to mean, he exceeds all limits in his arrogancy, or he passes onward through the land. The former interpretation regards what is coming, the latter keeps to the metaphor of the wind. And offend. He is guilty, or offends, as the next clause explains, by attributing his success to his own prowess and skill. Thus the prophet intimates that the avenger himself incurs God's displeasure, and will suffer for it. Septuagint, καὶ ἐξιλάσεται, which St. Cyril interprets to mean that the Lord will change his purpose of punishing the Jews, and will have mercy on them—a notion quite foreign to the purport of the sentence. Imputing this his power unto his god; more literally, this his power is his god; Revised Version, even he whose might is his god. He defies the Lord, and makes his might his god. (For such pride and self-glorification, setup. Isaiah 14:13; Isaiah 47:7, etc.; Daniel 4:30.) Thus Mezentius, the despiser of the gods, speaks in Virgil, 'AEn.,' 10:773—

"Dextra mihi deus et telum, quod missile libro,

Nunc adsint!"

Comp. Statius, 'Theb.,' 3.615—

"Virtus mihi numen, et ensis, Quem teneo."

Habakkuk 1:12-17

§ 4. The prophet, in reply, beseeches the Lord not to suffer his people to perish, seeing that he has deigned to be in covenant with them, but to remember mercy even during the affliction at the hand of their rapacious enemies.

Habakkuk 1:12

Habakkuk calls to mind God's immutability and his covenant with Israel. Art thou not from everlasting, etc.? An affirmative answer is expected. This is one ground of confidence in the corrective nature of the chastisement. God is Jehovah, the covenant God, who has been in personal relation to Israel from time immemorial, and is himself eternal. Mine Holy One. He speaks in the person of the righteous people, and he refers to God's holiness as a second ground of hope, because, although God must punish sin, he will not let the sacred nation, the chosen guardian of the faith, perish utterly. And then he expresses this confidence: We shall not die. We shall be chastened, but not killed. The Masorites assert that the present reading is a correction of the scribes for "thou wilt not die," which the prophet wrote originally, and which was altered for reverence' sake. But this is a mere assumption, incapable of proof. Its adoption would be an omission of the very consolation to which the prophet's confidence leads. Thou hast ordained them (him) for judgment. Thou hast appointed the Chaldean to execute thy corrective punishment on Israel (comp. Jeremiah 46:28). Others take the meaning to be—Thou hast predestined the Chaldean to be judged and punished This is not so suitable in this place. O mighty God; Hebrew, O Rock—an appellation applied to God, as the sure and stable Resting place and Support of his people (Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:37; Psalms 18:2, Psalms 31:3; Isaiah 17:10). Thou hast established them (him) for correction. Thou appointedst the Chaldean, or madest him strong, in order to correct thy people. He is, like the Assyrian, the rod of God's anger (Isaiah 10:5). Septuagint, επλασέ με τοῦ ἐλέγχειν παιδείαν αὐτοῦ, "He formed me to prove his instruction." This, says St. Jerome, is spoken in the person of the prophet announcing his call and office.

Habakkuk 1:13

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil (comp. Habakkuk 1:3). God cannot look with complacency on evil (Psalms 5:5, Psalms 5:6). Iniquity; Septuagint, πόνους ὀδύνης, "labours of pain." Injustice and the distress occasioned by it. God's holiness cannot endure the sight of wickedness, nor his mercy the sight of man's misery. And yet he permits these evil men to afflict the holy seed. This is the prophet's perplexity, which he lays before the Lord. Them that deal treacherously. The Chaldeans, so called from their faithless and rapacious conduct (Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16). More righteous. The Israelites, wicked as they were, were more righteous than the Chaldeans (comp. Ezekiel 16:51, etc.). Delitzsch and Keil think that the persons intended are the godly portion of Israel, who will suffer with the guilty.

Habakkuk 1:14

The prophet appeals movingly to God by showing the indignity with which the people are treated. As the fishes of the sea. Dumb and helpless, swept off by the fisherman. That have no ruler ever them. None to guide and protect them (comp. Proverbs 6:7; Proverbs 30:27). So the Jews seem to be deprived of God's care, and left to be the prey of the spoiler, as if of little worth, and no longer having God for their King (comp. Isaiah 63:19, Revised Version). The "creeping things" are worms, or small fish (Psalms 104:25).

Habakkuk 1:15

They take up all men with the angle; he bringeth up all together with the hook (Amos 4:2) The net. Any kind of net. Septuagint, ἄμφίβληστνον," cast net." The drag ( σαγήνη). The large drag net. At their own pleasure, unhindered, the Chaldeans make whole nations their prey, their fishing implements being their armies, with which they gather unto themselves countries, peoples, and booty.

Habakkuk 1:16

Therefore they sacrifice unto their net. This is spoken metaphorically, implying that the Babylonians recognized not God's hand, but attributed their success to the means which they employed (comp. Habakkuk 1:11; Isaiah 10:13 etc.). There is no trace in the monuments of the Chaldeans paying divine honours to their weapons, as, accord-lug to Herodotus (4:62), the Scythians and other nations did (see Justin, 'Hist.,' 43:3; and Pusey's note here). What a man trusts in becomes a god to him. Their portion is fat; his portion is rich. He gains great wealth. Their meat plenteous; his meat dainty. He is prosperous and luxurious.

Habakkuk 1:17

Shall they therefore empty their net? Because they have had this career of rapine and conquest, shall God allow them to continue it? Shall they be permitted to be continually emptying their net in order to fill it again? The idea is that they carried off their booty and captives and secured them in their own territory, and then set out on new expeditions to acquire fresh plunder. The question is answered in the next chapter, where the judgment on the Chaldeans is pronounced. And not spare continually to slay the nations? And cease not to send forth his armies and to found his empire in the blood of conquered nations. The Septuagint and Vulgate have no interrogation, the assertion being made by way of expostulation.

HOMILETICS

Habakkuk 1:1

A prophet's burden.

I. THE PROPHET.

1. His name. Habakkuk—"Embracing," which might signify either "one who embraces" or "one who is embraced." Accepting the former sense, Luther notes the suitability of the prophet's name to his office. "He embraces his people (in his prophecy), and takes them to his arms; i.e. he comforts them, and lifts them up as one embraces a poor weeping child or man, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon;" though probably the name rather points to the character of the prophet's faith, which cleaved fast to the Lord amid the perplexity of things seen (Pusey).

2. His person. A Jewish prophet, belonging to the tribe of Levi, and officially qualified to take part in the liturgical service of the temple (Habakkuk 3:19). Beyond this nothing is known of his history, the Jewish legends concerning him (consult Introduction) being absolutely worthless.

3. His date. Uncertain. Before the arrival of the Chaldeans in Judah (verse 6), and therefore before the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1); but whether in the reign of Manasseh (Havernick, Keil, Pusey), or in that of Josiah (Delitzsch), or in that of Jehoiakim (De Wette, Ewald, Umbreit, Hitzig, Bleek, Kleinert), is open to debate. That the Assyrians are not mentioned as a power seems to indicate that by this time Nineveh had fallen, which speaks for the third of the above dates; that the predicted judgment (verse 5) was to be so unlikely as barely to be credible favours a time while Babylon was yet subject to Assyria, and therefore a date in the reign of Manasseh. The moral and spiritual degeneracy of the age in which Habakkuk lived (verses 1-4) harmonizes less with the reign of Josiah than with that of Manasseh or Jehoiakim. The latter is supported by the fact that the Chaldeans appear to be depicted as already on their march (verse 6); the former by the circumstance that the judgment is represented as not immediately at hand, but only as certain to happen in the days of those to whom the prophet spoke (verse 5).

II. THE BURDEN.

1. Its contents. As Nahum had predicted the destruction of Nineveh and the Assyrian power, which had carried the ten tribes into captivity (2 Kings 17:6), so Habakkuk declares

2. Its form. In the first two chapters the prophet sets forth his message in the form of a conversation between himself and Jehovah, the prophet addressing Jehovah in the language of complaint (verses 1-4) and challenge (verses 12-17), and Jehovah in return replying to his complaint (verses 5-11) and to his challenge (Habakkuk 2:2-19). In the third chapter Habakkuk appends a prayer, which begins by supplicating mercy for the afflicted people of God (Habakkuk 3:1, Habakkuk 3:2), and quickly passes into a sublime description of Jehovah's coming in the glory of the Almighty (Habakkuk 3:3-11) for the destruction of his foes (Habakkuk 3:12-15) and the salvation of his people and his anointed (Habakkuk 3:13). "The whole of the prophecy has an ideal stamp. Not even Judah and Jerusalem are mentioned, and the Chaldeans who are mentioned by name are simply introduced as the existing possessors of the imperial power of the world, which was bent upon the destruction of the kingdom of God, or as the sinners who swallow up the righteous man" (Keil).

3. Its style. The lofty sublimity of this brief composition, as regards both thought and expression, has been universally recognized. "His language is classical throughout His view and mode of presentation bear the seal of independent force and finished beauty" (Delitzsch). "Habakkuk bears not merely the prophet's mantle, but also the poet's wreath adorns his honourable head. He is a Jeremiah and an Asaph in one" (Umbrieit). "As regards force and fulness of conception and beauty of expression, he was certainly one of the most important among the prophets of the Old Testament" (Kleinert).

4. Its origin. No more in his case than in Nahum's was this political foresight, but inspiration. If this prophecy proceeded from the age of Manasseh, political foresight is simply out of the question as its explanation; if from the first years of Jehoiakim, it will be time enough to admit that political foresight could certainly predict a Babylonian invasion at a year's distance when it has been shown that modern statesmen can infallibly tell what shall be on the morrow. And, of course, if political foresight could not certainly predict the Babylonian invasion at one year's distance, still less could it announce a Babylonian overthrow at a distance of more than half a century. Political foresight, then, being an insufficient hypothesis, Divine inspiration should be frankly admitted. Like Nahum, Habakkuk "saw" the burden he delivered. In the New Testament the book is cited as inspired (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Acts 13:40, Acts 13:41; Hebrews 10:38).

Learn:

1. That future events are known to God—Divine foreknowledge.

2. That God can reveal these to men, should he so please—the possibility of revelation.

3. That those whom God selects to be his messengers nevertheless retain their individual and characteristic modes of thought and expression—inspiration not mechanical or uniform.

Habakkuk 1:2

The lamentation of a good man.

I. OVER THE RELIGIOUS DEGENERACY OF HIS AGE. Not merely for himself, but as the representative of the godly remnant of Judah, Habakkuk expostulates with Jehovah concerning the wickedness of the times in which he lived. The picture he sets before Jehovah is one of deep national corruption, such as existed in the days of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 20:8; Jeremiah 22:3, Jeremiah 22:13-17). A picture of wickedness.

1. Great.

2. Public. It was not merely a degeneracy, eating its way secretly into the vitals of the nation; the disease had already come to the surface. Vice and irreligion were not practised in private. Iniquity flaunted its robes openly in the eyes of passers by. The prophet saw it, looked upon it, felt himself surrounded by it. Spoiling and violence were before him; and sinners of every description around him.

3. Presumptuous. It was wickedness perpetrated, not merely against God's Law, but by God's covenanted people, in the face of remonstrances from God's prophets, and under the eye of God himself. The prophet states that Jehovah as well as he had beheld the wickedness complained of.

4. Inveterate. It was not a sudden outburst of moral and spiritual corruption, but a long continued and deeply rooted manifestation of national degeneracy, which had often sent the prophet to his knees, and caused him to cry for Divine interposition.

II. OVER THE SEEMING INDIFFERENCE OF GOD.

1. A frequent phenomenon. During the long antediluvian period Jehovah, apparently without concern, allowed mankind to degenerate; though he saw that the Wickedness of man was great in the earth (Genesis 6:5), it was not till one man only remained righteous before him that he interposed with the judgment of a flood. From the era of the Flood downwards he "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16). Job (Job 34:12) observed this to be the method of the Divine procedure in his day, Asaph in his (Psalms 1:1-6 :21), Habakkuk in his; and today nothing can be more apparent than that it is not a necessary part of Heaven's plan that "sentence against an evil work" should be "executed speedily."

2. A perplexing mystery. That God cannot be indifferent to sin, to the wickedness of nations or to the transgressions of individuals, is self-evident; otherwise he could not be God (Psalms 11:7; Psalms 111:9; Psalms 145:17; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Peter 1:15; Revelation 4:8). But that, loving righteousness and hating iniquity, he should seem to make no effort to protect, vindicate, strengthen, and diffuse the one, or to punish, restrain, and overthrow the other,—this is what occasions trouble to religious souls reflecting on the course of providence (Job 21:7; Psalms 73:2). The solution of the problem can only be that, on the one hand, he deems it better that righteousness should be purified, tested, and established by contact with evil, while, on the other hand, it seems preferable to his wisdom and love that wickedness should have free scope to reveal its true character, and ample opportunity either to change its mind or to justify its final overthrow (see homily on verses 12-19).

III. OVER THE MANIFEST FRUITLESSNESS OF HIS PRAYERS. An experience:

1. Strange. Habakkuk had cried long and earnestly to Jehovah about the wickedness of his countrymen. If rivers of waters ran not down his eyes because they kept not Jehovah's Law, as the psalmist tells us was the case with him (Psalms 119:136), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1) wished that it could have been with him, long processions of greenings ascended from his bosom to the throne of God on that very account. Doubtless, also, he expostulated with Jehovah about his seeming indifference, saying, "How long, O Lord, will this wickedness prevail? and how long wilt thou be silent?" Yet was there "no voice, nor any that answered him," any more than if he bad been a worshipper of Baal (1 Kings 18:26); and this although Jehovah was preeminently the Hearer of prayer (Psalms 65:2), and had invited his people to call upon him in the day of trouble (Psalms 1:1-6 :15).

2. Common. It is not wicked men alone whose prayers are denied—men like Saul (1 Samuel 28:6), and the inhabitants of Judah in the days of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15) and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:14), but good men like Job (Job 30:20) and David (Psalms 22:2) as well. As the Syro-Phoenician woman cried after Jesus, and was answered never a word (Matthew 15:23), so many prayers ascend from the hearts of God's people to which, for a time at least, no response returns.

3. Valuable. Fitful to test the faith and sincerity of the petitioner, it is also admirably calculated to teach him the sovereignty of God in grace as well as in nature, to show him that, while God distinctly engages to answer prayer, he undertakes to do so only in his own time and way.

Learn:

1. That no good man can be utterly indifferent to the moral and spiritual character of the age in which he lives.

2. That good men should bear the highest interests of their country before God upon their hearts in prayer.

3. That good men should never lose faith in two things—that God is on the side of righteousness, even when iniquity appears to triumph; and that God hears their prayers, even when he delays to answer or appears to deny them.

Habakkuk 1:5-11

Judgment on the wing.

I. ITS CHARACTER DESCRIBED. (Habakkuk 1:5.)

1. Its subjects. The land and people of Judah (Habakkuk 1:6). These, though Jehovah's covenanted people, had declined from his worship, departed from his ways, dishonoured his Name. It was in the covenant that, under such circumstances, they should be chastised (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 89:30); and Jehovah is never unmindful of his covenant engagements (Psalms 111:5), if men are of theirs (2 Timothy 2:12, 2 Timothy 2:13).

2. Its Author. Jehovah. "The Judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:20), "his eyes behold and his eyelids try the children of men" (Psalms 11:4), communities and nations no less than individuals (Psalms 67:4). As "justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne" (Psalms 89:14), so "all his ways are judgment" (Deuteronomy 32:4), and "the works of his hands are verity and judgment" (Psalms 111:7). As the least significant occurrence (Matthew 10:29), so the most momentous, cannot happen without the Divine permission. The Supreme is behind all second causes. He regulates the rise and fall of nations and kings (Job 12:23; Psalms 75:7), the ebb and flow of ocean (Job 38:11), the movements of the heavenly bodies (Job 38:31-33), the growth and decay of flowers (Isaiah 40:7). When Nineveh is overthrown and Babylon raised up, Jehovah, unseen but all-powerful, is the prime Mover. When Judah or Israel is chastised, it is Jehovah s hand that holds the rod.

3. Its certainty. Being matter of clear and definite promise on the part of Jehovah: "I will work a work;" "Behold, I raise up the Chaldeans." So certain is Jehovah's future judgment of his enemies (Malachi 3:5; Acts 17:1-34 :81). This, like that, has no basis but Jehovah's announcement. That this will not fail may be inferred from the accomplishment of that.

4. Its vicinity. Close at hand. "Behold, I work a work in your days" obviously meant that within a generation at furthest the Divine stroke should descend on Judah, and that every person in the nation should regard it as near. In the same way are Christians directed to think of the judgment of the great day as at hand (James 5:9; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 22:12), though of that day and of that hour knoweth no man (Mark 14:1-72 :82) more than this, that it is certain (Job 21:30; Psalms 1:4; Daniel 7:10; Matthew 25:32; Hebrews 9:27).

5. Its strangeness. It should be both startling and incredible.

II. ITS INSTRUMENT INDICATED. (Verses 6-11.) This was the Chaldean or Babylonian power, at the time subject to Assyria, and not risen to the ascendency it afterwards enjoyed under Nebuchadnezzar and his successors. The prophet depicts it when raised up, not only into a nation, but against Judah by a sevenfold characteristic.

1. Its natural disposition. He calls it "a bitter and hasty nation," i.e. fierce and rough, heedless and rash, and represents it as marching through the breadth of the earth, impelled by covetousness, and making a way for itself by sheer brute force and violence—taking possession of dwelling places not its own.

2. Its formidable appearance. "They are," or he, i.e. the nation, is, "terrible and dreadful," by its very name and much more by its aspect and actions inspiring terror in the breasts of beholders.

3. Its presumptuous self-sufficiency. "Their judgment and dignity proceed from themselves;" i.e. conscious of its own strength, it determines for itself its own rule of right, and ascribes to itself its elevation above the other nations of the earth. This putting of self instead of God in the place of honour and scat of authority is the essence of all sin. Wicked men walk after the counsels and in the imaginations of their own evil hearts (Jeremiah 7:24), and are prone to arrogate to themselves what should be rendered to God, viz. the glory of their successful achievements (Deuteronomy 8:17; 7:2).

4. Its military strength.

5. Its warlike achievements.

6. Its daring impiety. Rushing on like a swollen torrent, like his own Euphrates when it overflows its banks, sweeping across the land like a tempestuous wind over the sandy desert, it overleaps all barriers and restraints both Divine and human, and stands convicted before God as a guilty transgressor.

7. Its shameless blasphemy. The culmination at once of its offence and of its guilt is that it deifies its own might, saying, "Lo, this my strength is my god!" Such was the spirit of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30) and of Belshazzar (Isaiah 14:14); such will be that of the future antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:4).

Learn:

1. That if God's people sin they must look for chastisement (Deuteronomy 11:28; Psalms 89:32).

2. That if God's people are chastised for their offences, God's enemies cannot hope to escape punishment for theirs (1 Peter 4:17, 1 Peter 4:18).

3. That God can always lay his hand upon an instrument wherewith to inflict punishment upon his people (Isaiah 10:5).

4. That wicked men and nations whom God employs in the execution of his judgments do not thereby escape responsibility for their own actions (Isaiah 10:12).

5. That the deification of self is the last delusion of a foolish heart (Genesis 3:5).

Habakkuk 1:12-17

The triumph of faith.

I. HABAKKUK'S GOD. (Habakkuk 1:12, Habakkuk 1:13.)

1. Eternal. From everlasting (Psalms 93:2), and therefore to everlasting (Psalms 90:1); hence immutable (Malachi 3:6), without variableness or shadow cast by turning (James 1:17), in respect of his being (1 Timothy 1:17), character (Isaiah 63:16; Psalms 111:3), purpose (Job 23:13), and promise (Hebrews 6:17).

2. Holy. In himself the absolutely and the only stainless One (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3), and in all his self-manifestations (Job 34:10), in his ways and works (Psalms 145:17) as well as words (Psalms 33:4), equally immaculate, and necessarily so, since an unholy Divinity could not be supreme, he is "of purer eyes than to behold evil," and "cannot look upon iniquity" with indifference, and far less with favour (Psalms 5:4; Jeremiah 44:4).

3. Omniscient. Inferred from the fact that he beheld all the evil that was done beneath the sun, both in Judah by his own people (Habakkuk 1:3) and among the nations by the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 1:13). Omniscience a necessary attribute of the Supreme, and one much emphasized in Scripture (Proverbs 15:3; Job 28:24; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13).

4. Omnipotent. This implied in his supremacy over the nations, raising up one power (the Chaldeans) and putting down another (Judah), giving the peoples into Nebuchadnezzar's net, and again hurling down Nebuchadnezzar's grandson from his seat of power. Also suggested by the designation "Rock," given him by Habakkuk, who meant thereby to teach the strength and steadfastness of Jehovah in comparison with the idols of the heathen, and his ability to shelter and defend those who trusted in him (Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:30, Deuteronomy 32:31, Deuteronomy 32:37; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:1; Psalms 31:3, etc.).

5. Gracious. He was such a God as had entered into covenant with the prophet, who accordingly styled him "my God," "mine Holy One." "My" is faith's response to God's grace in offering himself to man as a God (Exodus 20:2).

II. HABAKKUK'S PERPLEXITY. (Verses 13-17.)

1. A great mystery.

2. An old problem. Habakkuk's perplexity was the same which from time immemorial has troubled thoughtful men, the dark enigma of providence—why good men should so frequently be crushed by misfortune, and wicked men so often crowned with prosperity. This mystery was a source of anxiety to Job (Job 12:6; Job 21:7-13), David (Psalms 16:1-11 :14, 15), Asaph (Psalms 73:1-13), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:1), the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 8:14), in the olden times; has caused much stumbling to good men since, and probably will do so while the world lasts.

3. A valuable discipline. Distressing as this mystery is, it is nevertheless not without its uses to such as are exercised thereby. It assists them to understand the sovereignty of God, that he giveth not account of any of his matters (Job 33:13); to realize their own limited and imperfect vision, which can only see in part, not in whole (Job 37:21; 1 Corinthians 13:9), only the middle and neither the beginning nor the end of God's work in providence; to cultivate those virtues of patience, humility, trustfulness, which are essential elements in all true goodness (Psalms 37:3-5); and to seek their portion in God himself (Psalms 16:5) rather than in earthly things (Psalms 17:14), in the future world rather than in the present life (Colossians 3:2).

III. HABAKKUK'S CONSOLATION. (Verses 12-17.)

1. Concerning the righteous.

2. Concerning the wicked. Jehovah being what he is, the wicked cannot be allowed to go on always as they are. "Shall he," the Chaldean, "therefore empty his net" to fill it again? Is this process of angling and dragging for men and nations to go on forever? Shall he "not spare to slay the nations continually "? the prophet asks; meaning by the question, "No, verily, this must come to an end." And those who have reflected deepest on the problem have perceived that, at the longest, the triumph of the wicked is but short (Job 20:5; Psalms 37:35, Psalms 37:36; Psalms 73:18-20), and that their experience of prosperity, however long it may be, will only in the end aggravate their misery, unless before the end they repent of their wickedness, and turn to God in faith, humility, love, and righteousness. "The immortal gods," wrote Julius Caesar, in his 'Gallic War' (Habakkuk 1:14), "are accustomed, the more heavily to pain by reverse of fortune those of whom for their wickedness they wish to be avenged, to grant to them in the mean while a larger sham of prosperity and a longer period of impunity."

Learn:

1. That the good man's best comfort in affliction and stay in adversity is the character of God (Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 52:1-15 :21; 2 Corinthians 1:3).

2. That with God silence is not to be understood as equivalent to consent (Psalms 1:1-6 :21).

3. That it is God's custom to make men reap as they have sown, to reward perverseness with perverseness, and iniquity with iniquity (Psalms 18:26; Matthew 7:2; Galatians 6:7).

4. That governments tend to the good order of society, and are to be respected and obeyed even when not perfect (Romans 13:1, Romans 13:2).

5. That the reign of wickedness will one day terminate (Psalms 145:20; Matthew 21:11; 1 Corinthians 15:25).

HOMILIES BY S.D. HILLMAN

Habakkuk 1:1

The title.

This introduces us to the writer and his work. Note—

I. HIS NAME. Habakkuk i.e. "One who embraces"—a name singularly appropriate in its significance to the man who "rested in the Lord, and waited patiently for him" through the dark days. Luther applied the name to the prophet's regard for his people, "embracing them, taking them to his arms, comforting them, and lifting them up as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon." Jewish tradition has identified him with the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18), and with the watchman sent by Isaiah to the watch tower (21) to look towards Babylon. But with these and other merely fanciful and utterly unreliable traditions the silence of Scripture very favourably contrasts. It makes him known to us through his teaching. It is the message rather than the messenger that is presented to us here; yet through the message we get to know the man so intimately that he becomes to us quite a familiar presence.

II. HIS OFFICE. "Habakkuk the prophet." This title clearly indicates that he had been appointed to the prophetical office. Many men in Old Testament times uttered certain prophecies, as for instance Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, but we do not find the title "the prophet" appended to their names, it being given simply to such as were specially chosen and set apart to this office. The closing words of the book (Habakkuk 3:19) have led some to regard him as belonging to one of the Levitical families, and as appointed to take part in the liturgical services of the temple; but of this we cannot speak with any degree of certainty, though probably it was so.

III. HIS PROPHECY. This is described as "the burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." The phrase is peculiar, but the meaning is clear. He saw a vision of coming events, in which solemn Divine judgments would be executed both against his own people and their oppressors; and the scene of impending woe oppressed his spirit and lay as a heavy weight upon his soul. Still, dark as the outlook was, and oppressed in heart as he felt himself to be amidst the mysteries of life viewed in relation to the Divine government, he maintained throughout unswervingly his trust in God; and which so clearly pervaded his spirit and so repeatedly revealed itself in his expressions as amply to justify the representation that he is "eminently the prophet of reverential, awe-filled faith." Viewed from a literary standpoint, his prophecy may well exite our profoundest interest. Critical writers with one consent bear testimony to the beauty of his contributions to these sacred oracles. Ewald calls the book "Habakkuk's Pindaric Ode." Delitzsch says of it, "His language is classical throughout, full of rare and select words and turns, which are to some extent exclusively his own, whilst his view and mode of presentation bear the seal of original force and finished beauty." Pusey observes, "Certainly the purity of his language and the sublimity of his imagery is, humanly speaking, magnificent; his measured cadence is impressive in its simplicity." But valuable as this composition is in this respect, its great charm consists in the spirit of holy trustfulness which it breathes. As we ponder over its contents we feel at every stage our lack of confidence in our God reproved, and are impelled to cry, "Lord, we believe: help thou our unbelief" (Mark 9:24); "Lord, increase our faith" (Luke 17:5).—S.D.H.

Habakkuk 1:2-4

The elegy.

In this brief and plaintive strain we have—

I. AN EARNEST HEART REFLECTING UPON THE PREVAILING INIQUITY. Whatever may have been the exact date of this prophecy, it is clear that the writer stood connected with the close of the kingdom of Judah, the eve of the Captivity, and that he presents to us, in a few graphic touches, a vivid description of the depravity then prevailing in the land. He bitterly laments over:

1. The insecurity of property. "Spoiling and violence are before me" (Habakkuk 1:3).

2. The strifes of parties and factions. "And there are that raise up strife and contention" (Habakkuk 1:3).

3. Laxity in the administration of the Law. "The Law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth" (Habakkuk 1:4).

4. The good suffering unjustly at the hands of the evil. "The wicked doth compass about the righteous " (Habakkuk 1:4).

5. The openness and audacity of wrong doers in this evil course. He speaks of all this iniquity as being patent to the observer. Sometimes, "vice, provoked to shame, borrows the colour of a virtuous deed;" but in this instance there Has no attempt at concealment or disguise, and no sense of shame. "Spoiling and violence are before me" (Habakkuk 1:3).

II. AS EARNEST HEART YEARNING FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND IMPATIENT OF DELAY. The life of piety is undoubtedly the happy life (Psalms 1:1). Still, it is not always sunshine, even with the good. There are times in their experience when the sky becomes overcast, and when they become depressed and sad at heart. Although possessing "the firstfruits of the Spirit," the pledge and the earnest of the enjoyment at length of a fulness of blessing, they often "groan within themselves" (Romans 8:23). And a very large ingredient in the cup of sorrow the good have to drink is that occasioned by beholding the blighting effects of sin. As they witness men unprincipled in their dealings, impure in their speech, dishonourable in their transactions, and as they note the pernicious influence and effects of such conduct, their hearts are rendered sad, and they are constrained to long ardently for the time when sin shall be completely vanquished, when it shall be banished from this fair universe of God, and when there shall come in all its perfection the reign of truth and righteousness, peace and love. This spirit runs through the prophet's mournful strain (Habakkuk 1:2-4). We recognize it also in the words of David, "Oh let the wickedness of the wicked!" etc. (Psalms 7:9), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:8, Jeremiah 14:9), and impelled by it many are crying today, "Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?"

III. AN EARNEST HEART DIRECTING ITS IMPASSIONED APPEAL TO GOD IN PRAYER. (Verse 2.) The seer did not question the Divine rectitude, but his spirit was perturbed at the delay, and he yearned with a holy impatience for the vindication of the honour of his God. And under such conditions no course is so commendable as that of pouring our plaint into the ear of Infinite Love. Prayer at such seasons will be found helpful:

1. In tranquillizing the spirit, quieting and subduing agitation, and imparting a sense of restfulness and peace.

2. In linking our human weakness to God's almighty strength, and thus fitting us for reviewed service to him. "Toil, pain, doubt, terror, difficulty,—all retreat before the recognition of a great life purpose wrought out in entire dependence upon Heaven."

3. In causing light to shine through the dark cloud of mystery, helping us to understand the Divine plan (Psalms 73:16, etc.), and so preparing the way for our exchanging the mournful elegy for the rapturous melody of thankful and adoring praise.—S.D.H.

Habakkuk 1:5-11

The Divine working against evil and its doers.

We have expressed here God's response to the impassioned appeal addressed to him by his servant. There is much that is suggestive in these words as bearing upon the Divine working against those who practise sin and who persist in its commission. Note—

I. THAT GOD IS NOT INDIFFERENT WITH RESPECT TO PREVAILING UNGODLINESS. The seer had asked, "How long?" (Habakkuk 1:2). He was impatient of delay. But whilst there is this lingering on the part of God, so that "judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily" (Ecclesiastes 8:11), this is owing to the Divine long suffering and patience, and does not arise from indifference and unconcern being cherished by the Most High in reference to iniquity. Wrong doing is ever before him, is closely observed by him. It is the source of displeasure to him who is perfect in purity, and the requital of it will assuredly be experienced by transgressors. Though it may tarry, it will surely come. "I will work a work," etc. (Habakkuk 1:5).

II. THAT GOD, IN THE ORDER OF HIS PROVIDENCE, IN EXECUTING HIS JUDGMENTS, OVERRULES THE ACTIONS OF EVIL MEN, AND CAUSES THESE TO FULFIL HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. The verses contain a wonderfully graphic account of the Chaldeans who were to be the instruments of the Divine chastisement of Judah (compare with them Isaiah 14:6, Isaiah 14:16, Isaiah 14:17), and whilst in reading them, so vivid is the portrayal, that we seem to see the Chaldean horsemen sweeping through the land like the simoom, causing death and desolation to follow in their track, we also have presented to us certain traits most clearly indicative of their gross wickedness.

—all pass in review before us. And these were chosen to be the executors of the Divine judgments! "For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans" (Habakkuk 1:6). The meaning is that God, in his providence, would permit "that bitter and hasty nation" to be a scourge to his chosen people on account of their transgression. The Chaldeans, in seeking their own ends, should be made to fulfil the Divine behests. Man is wondrously free to act; and he often does act without any regard to truth and righteousness. The world, indeed, is full of evil doers acting according to their own devices; but "he that sitteth in the heavens" is guiding and directing all to the accomplishment of his own high purposes and to the fulfilment of his holy and gracious will.

III. THAT GOD, IN OPERATING AGAINST EVIL AND ITS DOERS, SOMETIMES EMPLOYS UNEXPECTED AGENTS. "The Hebrew state was at this time in close alliance with the Chaldean state, an alliance so close and friendly that the Hebrew politicians had no fear of its rupture. Yet it was in this wholly unexpected form that the Divine judgment was to come upon them. The Chaldeans in whom they trusted, on whom they leaned, were to give the death blow to the dynasty of David." All the material and moral forces of the universe are under the Divine control, and in ways and by means little anticipated his retributions often overtake his adversaries.

IV. THAT THIS DIVINE WORKING AGAINST EVIL AND ITS DOERS RECEIVES BUT TARDY RECOGNITION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT FROM MAN. (Habakkuk 1:5.) The retributions have to light upon them ere they will believe. "They cry, Peace and safety: till sudden destruction comes upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). So has it been in the past, and so, upon the authority of Christ, will it be in the future (Matthew 24:27-29). Still, amidst this unconcern and unbelief, the duty of the messenger of God is clear. He must "cry aloud." He must bid men "behold," "regard," and "wonder," and then, "whether they hear or forbear;" "he has delivered his soul."—S.D.H.

Habakkuk 1:12

The inspiration of hope.

Hope is the expectation of future good. The cherishing of this spirit, even as it respects the affairs of everyday life, yields strength and courage, whilst the centering this in the glorious realities God has revealed imparts joy and gladness to the heart. To the man of piety hope is the helmet, serving as a protection and defence in the day of conflict, and the anchor rendering his spirit Peaceful and secure amidst the storms of life.

I. CONSIDER THE PROPHET'S REASONING IN THIS VERSE IN ITS APPLICATION TO HIMSELF AND HIS NATION, AND NOTE HOW THE INSPIRATION OF HOPE FIRED HIS SOUL.

1. The seer directed his thoughts to the contemplation of the character of his God. Two aspects of this were vividly present to his mind.

2. Associated with these thoughts concerning God in the mind of the prophet we have the recognition of the relationship sustained by this Eternal and Holy One to himself and the nation whose interests lay near and pressed with such weight upon his heart. He and his people were the chosen of Heaven. God had entered into covenant relations with them. They had been the objects of his ever gracious care and providential working. He had not dealt thus with any other people. They could call him theirs. "O Lord my God, mine Holy One" (Habakkuk 1:12).

3. And by associating together these thoughts of God and of his relationship to his people he gathered, in the troublous times upon which he had fallen, the inspiration of hope. One great difficulty with him arose from the threatened extinction of his nation. He had mourned over the national guilt, and had sought earnestly in prayer the Divine interposition. The response, however, to his impassioned cry unto God was different from what he had expected. The revelation made to him of the approaching Chaldean invasion of his country seemed to carry with it the complete annihilation of the national anticipations, and the utter desolation and extinction of those who had been specially favoured of God. Surely, thought he, this cannot be. God is eternal; his purposes must be fulfilled. Then "we shall not die" (Habakkuk 1:12). God is holy. Then evil cannot ultimately be victorious. It could only be for chastisement and correction that the threatened trials should come. "O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction" (Habakkuk 1:12). And by such reasoning hope became the balm of healing to his troubled heart, the bow of promise cast across his stormiest cloud, the bright star kindled in his darkest sky.

II. OBSERVE THAT THE PROPHETS REASONING ADMITS OF A MORE EXTENDED RANGE OF APPLICATION, AND HAS AN IMPORTANT BEARING UPON THE IMMORTALITY OF MAN. Jehovah is "from everlasting." He is "the eternal God;" hence, our immortal destiny: "We shall not die." Surely the Divine Father will not allow his children to fade away and be no more. Certainly, he whose tender love to his children the love of human parents so faintly images, will not dwell through the eternal ages and "leave himself childless when time shall such"

"Souls that of his own good life partake,

He loves as his own self; dear as his eye

They are to him; he'll never them forsake;

When they shall die, then God himself shall die;

They live, they live in blest eternity."

(Henry More.)

It may be said that this reasoning, however concise and seemingly conclusive, is after all based upon probability. We grant it, and whilst refusing to undervalue its worth, we thankfully turn even from these beautiful words of the noble prophet, "Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die," and fix our thoughts upon the assurances, so authoritative and so certain, of the world's Redeemer. "Let not your heart be troubled," etc. (John 14:1-8); "I am the Resurrection," etc. (John 11:25, John 11:26); "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19)—S.D.H.

Habakkuk 1:12

The benefits of life's adversities.

"O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction." This is a second inference drawn by the prophet, lie not only inferred, from what he knew of the Divine character, that his people should not be utterly destroyed by the adversities which were about to overtake them—"We shall not die"—but also that these coming judgments should be made to work for their good. "O Lord, thou hast ordained," etc. (Habakkuk 1:12). God's chastisements are not directed to the overthrow but to the salvation of those upon whom they are inflicted. He chastens men sore, but does not give them over unto death. The dark scenes through which the frail and erring children of men are led are designed to contribute to their weal. How? Well, they operate in various ways.

I. THEY TEACH US THAT WE ARE NOT TO EXPECT TO HAVE OUR OWN WILL, BUT THAT THERE IS ONE HIGHER THAN OURSELVES, TO WHOSE WILL WE MUST ALL BOW.

II. THEY LEAD US TO REFLECTION, AND ARE THE MEANS OF REVEALING TO US OUR PAST SHORTCOMINGS AND FAILINGS.

III. THEY RENDER US MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO RECEIVING THE TEACHINGS OF GOD'S OWN SPIRIT.

IV. THEY RAISE OUR THOUGHTS FROM EARTH TOWARDS GOD AND HEAVEN.

V. THEY BRING US BACK WHEN WE HAVE WANDERED FROM OUR GOD, AND ARE THE MEANS OF RESTORING TO US THE WARMTH AND FERVOUR OF TRUE PIETY. Whilst, therefore, suffering considered in itself is not good, yet instrumentally it is desirable, and, if we are rightly exercised by it, will help us to attain unto a holier and more heavenly life. So David (Psalms 119:71, Psalms 119:67). So Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). It is because we are so slow to learn the lessons our sorrows are intended to teach us that it is "through much tribulation" that we are to enter the kingdom prepared for the saints of God. We need these threshings of the inner spiritual man in order that the chaff may be separated from the wheat, and we become thus prepared for the heavenly garner. Let us accept all our griefs as precious tokens of the Divine Father's love, and make them our convoy to bear us up to him.—S.D.H.

Habakkuk 1:16

The pride of human sufficiency.

The reference is to the Chaldeans. They would, in due course, invade Judah, and should be successful in their invasion. The "sinful nation" should fall into their hands as fish into the net of the angler; and, intoxicated by their success, they should congratulate themselves upon their achievements and adore their military prowess and skill, and their weapons of war, as though these had won the victory. "Therefore they sacrifice," etc. (Habakkuk 1:16). They should be lifted up with the pride of human sufficiency. Observe—

I. SUCCESS IS EVER SECURED AS THE BESTOWMENT OR BY THE PERMISSION OF GOD.

1. Temporal success is thus gainful. The age in which we live is an age of earnest toil, of restless activity. It is becoming more and more felt that a man cannot expect to make headway apart from continuous, energetic work. And this is a healthy "sign of the times." It reminds us that life is too valuable a gift to be frittered away. It contrasts, strikingly and pleasingly, with those periods in which ease, luxury, and sloth were deified and adored. There is dignity in labour. The danger lies in the non-recognition of God as the Bestower of the prosperity secured, and in ascribing the success achieved wholly to ourselves. The true spirit is that which prompts the acknowledgment, "All things come of thee" (1 Chronicles 29:14). The Lord is "Giver of all." Success is sometimes achieved by bad men. By fraud, oppression, reckless speculation, and by taking mean advantage, "the portion" of such is "made fat" and "their meat plenteous;" and in such cases all this is through the all-wise although often inscrutable permission of the Most High.

2. Spiritual success is also thus gained. In holy service we are but the instruments employed by God. The power is his, and the honour should all be laid at his feet. Baxter, when complimented at the close of his career upon the usefulness of his writings, said, "I was but a pen in the hand of my God, and what honour is due to a pen?"

II. MEN, FORGETFUL OF THIS AND TRACING TO THEMSELVES THE SUCCESS ACHIEVED, BECOME ELATED WITH THE PRIDE OF HUMAN SUFFICIENCY. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net," etc. (Habakkuk 1:16). "They say in their heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). So Pharaoh said, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself" (Ezekiel 29:3). So Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built," etc. (Daniel 4:30). Pusey refers in illustration of this to certain North American Indians, "who designate their bow and arrow as the only beneficent deities whom they know;" to the Romans sacrificing to their military standards; and to the French referred to in the Times during the FrancoGerman War as "almost worshipping the mitrailleuse as a goddess." And this is still our peril. Because our possibilities are so great, we think that we can win all blessings for ourselves. Everywhere we see the worship of our human powers and means—the workman worshipping the strength of his arm and the deftness of his fingers, the man of business worshipping his skill and acuteness, and the man of science, human knowledge. Nor is the Church of God free from this spirit: for there is far too much of trusting to forms and ceremonies, to worldly alliances, to machinery and organization, as though these were the great essentials, and far too little of "looking up unto the hills whence cometh her help."

III. ALL SUCH GLORYING IS VAIN.

1. It reveals self-ignorance. For no one who really understands himself could possibly cherish this spirit.

2. It leads to oppression. The man who has exalted notions of his own powers and doings is likely to be proud and overbearing in his conduct towards others.

3. It is offensive to God. "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). "In all our ways, therefore, let us acknowledge him" and as we prosper in our course ascribe the success gained to his favour and blessing. In the language of Keble, let us say—.

"Should e'er thy wonder working grace

Triumph by our weak arm,

Let not our sinful fancy trace

Aught human in the charm:

"To our own nets ne'er bow we down,

Lest on the eternal shore

The angels, while our draught they own,

Reject us evermore." S.D.H

Habakkuk 1:13-15, Habakkuk 1:17; Habakkuk 2:1-4

Dark problems and man's true attitude in relation to them.

I. THE MYSTERY CONNECTED WITH THE DIVINE OPERATIONS. (Habakkuk 2:13-15, Habakkuk 2:17.) The prophet in these words expressed the perplexity of his mind and the consequent sadness of his heart. He had bitterly mourned over the prevailing guilt of his people, and had earnestly appealed to Heaven to vindicate the right. The Divine response, however, filled him with distress. That Divine chastisement should be inflicted upon his country he understood and approved, but that the Chaldeans, who were still greater transgressors, should be permitted to run over the land, and to lead his people into captivity, baffled and perplexed him. Yea, more; whilst the good in his land were but few, yet there were to be found such; and how could it be that these should suffer, and suffer at the hands of the heathen who were so gross and iniquitous? Surely, thought he, this scarcely accorded with the thought of the Divine purity, and of the rectitude of God's providential government. And hence he cried in his perplexity, "Thou art," etc. (Habakkuk 2:13-15, Habakkuk 2:17). There is mystery in the Divine operations; dark problems confront us as we reflect upon the Divine working. "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33); "Thy way is in the sea;" i.e. "far down in secret channels of the deep is his roadway;" "Thy footsteps are not known;" i.e. "none can follow thy tracks" (Psalms 77:19). One man enjoys the endowment of reason; another is left a helpless lunatic. One has all things and abounds; another is well nigh destitute of the common necessaries of life. One has "no changes;" another is being continually subjected to adverse influences. We see the mother dying just after she has given birth to her child; we behold the young and the beautiful passing "out of sunshiny life into silent death;" we behold the earnest toiler stricken down in the very prime of life, whilst useless and injurious lives are preserved and "burn to the socket." The sceptic asks us to reconcile all this with the thought of God's wise and loving rulership, and, failing this, to join him in his indifference and practical atheism; but to do so would be to go contrary to the deepest convictions of our hearts, and to the clearest testimony of our consciences. We will rather seek to cherish a faith which will pierce the mists, and enable us, despite such anomalies, to recognize the goodness and the love of God.

II. THE TRUE ATTITUDE IN RELATION TO THESE DARK PROBLEMS.

1. The attitude of prayer. The seer took all his fears and forebodings, his difficulties and discouragements, his doubts and perplexities, to God in prayer (verses13-15, 17). As we pray light often is cast upon the hidden path.

2. The attitude of expectancy. "I will stand upon my watch," etc. (Habakkuk 2:1). We are to "wait patiently for the Lord," and there is ever to enter into this waiting the element of watchfulness. We are to look for further light, even here, upon the works and ways of our God, and we shall assuredly miss this unless we cherish the spirit of holy expectation. "Many a proffered succour from heaven goes past us because we are not standing on our watch tower to catch the far off indications of its approach, and to fling open the gates of our hearts for its entrance" (Maclaren).

3. The attitude of trust. "The just shall live by his faith" (Jeremiah 2:4). It is not in the process, but in the issue, that the wisdom and rightness of the Divine operations will be fully manifested, and for the issue we must trustfully wait. Tennyson sings—

"Who can so forecast the years,

And find in loss a gain to match?

Or reach a hand through time to catch

The far off interest of tears?"

In God's economy there is a gain to match every loss. Tears do bear interest; only we cannot "forecast the years," and see the gain; we cannot reach forth and seize in advance "the interest of tears." But however far off, it is there. We shall know more and more, even in the present life, as God's purposes concerning us develop, that all things are working together for our good (Romans 8:28), whilst at length standing upon the heights of eternity, and gazing back upon the past and seeing in the perfect light, the perfect wisdom,, and the perfect love, we shall cry with adoring gratitude, "He hath done all things well!"—S.D.H.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Habakkuk 1:1-4

The cry of a good man under the perplexing procedure of God.

"The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thee wilt not save!" etc. Of Habakkuk nothing is known for certainty. The fifth and sixth verses of the first chapter tell us that he prophesied before that series of invasions by the Chaldeans which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people—probably between 640 and 610 years before Christ. He was therefore contemporary with Jeremiah and Zephaniah. The book treats of the wickedness of the Jews, the infliction of punishment upon the Chaldeans, and the destruction of the latter in their turn. It has also a splendid ode, composed by the prophet in anticipation of their deliverance from Babylonish captivity. His work is quoted by the apostles (Hebrews 10:37, Hebrews 10:38; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Acts 13:41), hence it was regarded as having Divine authority. His style, in dignity and sublimity, is not surpassed by any of the Hebrew prophets. He is original. His utterances are bold and animated; his descriptions graphic and pointed. The lyric ode contained in the third chapter is esteemed by most biblical critics as one of the most splendid and magnificent in the whole compass of Hebrew poetry. The prophet sets forth the cause of the Chaldean invasion, and the great wickedness that abounded in the Jewish nation during his time. This was the burden of his discourse. "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." What was the burden? The heavy judgments impending over his nation. He saw it like a mountain with his prophetic eye; nay, he felt it as a mountain on his heart. This doom hanging over the Jewish people was indeed an intolerable weight. The text contains the cry of a good man under the perplexing procedure of God—"O Lord, how long shall I cry!" There seem to be two elements in his perplexity.

I. GOD'S APPARENT DISREGARD TO HIS EARNEST PRAYER. "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" Under the pressure of "the burden" that was resting on his heart, viz. the moral corruption and the coming doom of his country, it would seem that he had often cried unto the Almighty and implored his interposition; but no answer had come. How often have good men in every age felt that God disregarded their supplications! They cried and cried, but no answer came. The heavens seemed like brass; the oracles were hushed. It was thus with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Christ for a time not only treated her application with seeming indifference, but he even repulsed her. Why are not the prayers of good men immediately answered? In reply to this question three undoubted facts should be borne in mind.

1. That importunity of soul is necessary to qualify for the appreciation of the mercies sought. It is not until a man is made to feel the deep necessity of a thing that he values it when it comes. If we obtained from the Almighty what we required by one cry, or even by a series of mere formal applications, the boon would be of doubtful service; it would scarcely be appreciated, and would fail to fire the soul with the sentiments of devout gratitude and praise. It is not what God gives a man that does him good; it is the state of mind in which it is received that transmutes it either into a blessing or a curse. "How long shall I cry!" How long? Until the sense of need is so intensified as to qualify for the reception and due appreciation of the blessing.

2. That the exercise of true prayer is in itself the best means of spiritual culture. Conscious contact wit? God is essential to moral excellence. You must bring the sunbeam to the seed you have sown, if you would have the seed quickened and developed; and you must bring God into conscious contact with your powers, if you would have them vivified and brought forth into strength and perfection. True prayer does this; it is the soul realizing itself in the presence of him "who quickeneth all things."

3. That prayers are answered where there is no bestowment of the blessing invoked. We know not what to pray for; and were we to have what we seek, we might be ruined. Acquiescence in the Divine will is the highest answer to all true prayer. Christ prayed that the cup should pass from him. It did not pass from him; but, instead, there came to him the spirit of acquiescence in the Divine will: "Not my will, but thine be done." This is all we want. Acquiescence in the Divine will is the moral perfection, dignity, and blessedness of all creatures in the universe. With these facts let us not be anxious about the apparent disregard of God to our prayers.

II. GOD'S APPARENT DISREGARD TO THE MORAL CONDITION OF SOCIETY. "Why dost thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the Law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked cloth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth." The rendering of Delitzsch is both faithful and forceful, "Why dost thou let me see mischief, and thou lookest upon distress? Devastation and violence are before me; there arises strife, and contention lifts itself up. Therefore the Law is benumbed, and justice comes not forth forever: for sinners encircle the righteous man: therefore justice goes forth perverted." The substance of this is the old complaint, "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?" (Jeremiah 12:1). Two facts should be set against this complaint.

1. The good have the best of it, even in this life. Goodness is its own reward. Take two men—one who enjoys the love and fellowship of God, but who is destitute of this world's good and lives in poverty; the other, in whose heart reign the elements of wickedness, hut who has an abundance of the things of this life. Ask which of the two is the happier. The former, without doubt. Benevolence is the fountain of happiness, and selfishness the fountain of misery in both worlds. In this world give me poverty and piety rather than riches with wickedness.

2. That the evil will have the worst of it in the next life. There is no doubt about this. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches this. "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed forever" (Psalms 92:7).

CONCLUSION. Pray on, brother. "Pray without ceasing" Thy prayers are not lost. Let not God's apparent disregard to the supplications of his people and the moral condition of society perplex thy judgment and disturb thy peace. Wait the great explaining day. "What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter."—D.T.

Habakkuk 1:5-10

The doom of a nation of conventional religionists.

"Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation; which shall march through the breadth of the land," etc. In these verses we have the doom of a nation of conventional religionists. The Jews were such a nation; they prided themselves in the orthodoxy of their faith, in the ceremonials of their worship, in the polity of their Church. "To them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Romans 9:4). But they had now become abhorrent to their Maker. He was weary of them, and he threatens them with a terrible doom; the doom was so terrible that "ye will not believe, though it be told you." The doom threatened was terrible in many respects.

I. IT WAS TO BE WROUGHT BY THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF A WICKED NATION. "I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to posen the dwelling places that are not theirs." "Nabopolassar had already destroyed the mighty empire of Assyria, and founded the Chaldeo-Babylonian rule. He had made himself so formidable that Necho found it necessary to march an army against him, in order to check his progress; and, though defeated at Megiddo, he had, in conjunction with his son Nebuchadnezzar, gained a complete victory over the Egyptians at Carehemish. These events were calculated to alarm the Jews, whose country lay between the dominions of the two contending powers; but, accustomed as they were to confide in Egypt and in the sacred localities of their own capital (Isaiah 31:1; Jeremiah 7:4), and being in alliance with the Chaldeans, they were indisposed to listen to, and treated with the utmost incredulity, any predictions which described their overthrow by that people" (Henderson). Observe that God employs wicked nations as his instruments. "Lo, I raise up the Chaldeans." "I will work a work," he says; but how? By the Chaldeans. How does he raise up wicked nations to do his work?

1. Not instigatingly. He does not inspire them with wicked passions necessary to qualify them for the infernal work of violence, war, rapine, bloodshed. God could not do this. The diabolic passions are in them.

2. Not coercively. He does not force them to it; in no way does he interfere with them. They are the responsible party. They go forth on the bloody message with a consciousness of freedom. How, then, does he "raise" them up? He permits them. He could prevent them; but he allows them. He gives them life, capacity, and opportunities; but he does not inspire or coerce them. Now, would not the fact that the destruction of the Israelites would come upon them from a heathen nation, a nation which they despised, make it all the more terrible?

II. IT WAS TO BE WROUGHT WITH RESISTLESS VIOLENCE.

1. The violence would be uncontrolled. "Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves." They recognize no authority, and proudly spurn the dictates of others. "They recognize no judge save themselves, and they get for themselves their own dignity, without needing others' help. It will be vain for the Jews to complain of their tyrannical judgments, for whatever the Chaldeans decree they will do according to their own will: they will not brook any one attempting to interfere" (Fausset).

2. The violence would be rapid and fierce. "Their horses are swifter than the leopards." A naturalist says of the leopard that it runs most swiftly, straight on, and you would imagine it was flying through the air. "More fierce than the evening wolves." These ravenous beasts, having skulked all the day away from the light of heaven, get terribly hungry by the night, and come forth with a fierce voracity. Like the swift leopards and the ravenous wolves, we are here told, these Chaldeans would come forth. Yes, and swifter and more ravenous than the wolves, like the hungry eagle on its pinions that "hasteth to eat." What a terrible description of their doom! Alas! into what a monster sin has transformed man! he becomes leopard, wolf, eagle, etc.

III. IT WAS TO BE WROUGHT WITH IMMENSE HAVOC. "Their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every stronghold; for they shall heap dust, and take it." As the east wind, they would sweep through the country, like the simoom, spreading devastation wherever it passed; and like that wind would bear away the Jews into captivity, thick as the sand. "They shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them." They would regard all the great magnates of Judaea with a haughty contempt, and treat them with derision. And so would they be in their bloody expedition. They would regard their very conquering power as their god, and worship their success.

CONCLUSION. All this was to come upon a nation of conventional reglionists. All peoples whose religion is that of profession, letter, form, ceremony, are exposed to a doom as terrible as this.—D.T.

Habakkuk 1:12, Habakkuk 1:13

The eternity, providence, and holiness of Jehovah.

"Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction," etc. In this passage the prophet refers to the eternity, the providence, and the holiness of the Jehovah of the Jewish people.

I. HE REGARDS HIS ETERNITY AS AN ARGUMENT FOR THEIR PRESERVATION. "Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die." "However terrible and prostrating the Divine threatenings may sound, the prophet draws consolation and hope from the holiness of the faithful covenant God, that Israel will not perish, but that the judgment will be only a severe chastisement" (Delitzsch). "Art thou not from everlasting?" The interrogatory does not imply doubt on his part. The true God is essentially eternal; he "inhabiteth eternity." He is without beginning, without succession, without end. The loftiest thoughts of the loftiest intelligence are lost in the idea of his eternity. From his eternity the prophet argues that his people will not perish: "We shall not die." There is force in this argument. His people live in him. Their life is hid in God, and so long as he endures they may hope to continue. Christ said to his disciples, "Because I live, ye shall live also." Man's immortality is not in himself, but in God. If he has purposed that we shall live forever, he is eternal, and will never change his mind or die.

II. HE REGARDS HIS PROVIDENCE AS A SOURCE OF COMFORT. "O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction." "Jehovah, for judgment thou hast appointed it, and, O Rock, thou hast founded it for chastisement" (Delitzsch). Whatever evil of any kind, from any quarter, comes upon the loyal servants of God, comes not by accident; it is under the direction of the All-wise and the All-beneficent. These Chaldeans could not move without him, nor could they strike one blow without his permission; they were but the rod in his hand. All the most furious fiends in the universe are under his direction. He says, concerning the mighty tide of wicked passions, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further." Is not this a source of comfort under suffering and oppression? Whatever mischief men design to inflict upon his people, he purposes to bring good out of it: and his counsel shall stand.

III. HE REGARDS HIS HOLINESS AS AN OCCASION FOR PERPLEXITY. "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and boldest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" Jehovah is the Holy One. His holiness is essential, underived, indestructible, reflected in all consciences. He is of "purer eyes than to behold evil." His eyes do behold iniquity. There is no sin that comes not within his glance. What the prophet means, I presume, is—Thou art of "purer eyes" than to behold iniquity with satisfaction. It is that "abominable thing" which God hates. Now, this holiness was the occasion of perplexity to the prophet. As if he had said, "Since thou art holy, why allow such abominations to take place? why permit wicked men to work such iniquities, and to inflict such suffering upon the righteous?" This has always been a source of perplexity to good men. That a holy God, who has the power to prevent such iniquities, should allow them to occur, abound, and continue, is one of the great mysteries of life.

CONCLUSION. Let us, in all our troubles, like the prophet, look to the Everlasting One, and hold firmly the conviction that, notwithstanding the abounding of evil in the world, He is the Holy One, and is of "purer eyes" than to approve of wickedness,

"Courage, brother, do not stumble;

Though thy path be dark as night

There's a star to guide the humble;

Trust in God, and do the right.

"Let the road be rough and dreary,

And its end far out of sight;

Foot it bravely, strong or weary:

Trust in God, and do the fight.

"Perish policy and cunning,

Perish all that fears the light;

Whether losing, whether winning,

Trust in God, and do the right,

"Trust no party, sect, or faction;

Trust no leaders in the fight;

But in every word and action

Trust in God, and do the right.

"Simple rule and safest guiding,

Inward peace and inward might,

Star upon our path abiding:

Trust in God, and do the right.

"Some will hate thee, some will love thee,

Some will flatter, some will slight;

Cease from man, and look above thee:

Trust in God, and do the right."

(Norman McLeod.)—D.T.

Habakkuk 1:14-17

Rapacious selfishness in power.

"And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them. They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad," etc. In Nebuchadnezzar you have rapacious selfishness in power. He is here represented by implication as treating the Jewish people as a fisherman treats the fish in the sea. His aim is to catch them by "angle," "net," and "drag," and turn them to his own vile use. "These figures are not to be interpreted with such speciality as that the net and fishing net answer to the sword and bow; but the hook, the net, and the fishing net, as the things used for catching fish, refer to all the means which the Chaldeans employ in order to subdue and destroy the nations. Luther interprets it correctly. 'These hooks, nets, and fishing nets,' he says 'are nothing more than his great and powerful armies, by which he gained dominion over all lands and people, and brought home to Babylon the goods, jewels, silver and gold, interest and rent of all the world'" (Delitzsch). In these verses we have a specimen of rapacious selfishness in power. Selfishness is the root and essence of sin. All unregenerate men are therefore more or less selfish, and rapacity is an instinct of selfishness. Selfishness hungers for the things of others. Whilst this rapacious selfishness is general, mercifully it is not always in power, otherwise the world would be more of a pandemonium than it is. It is ever tyrannic and ruthless in the measure of its power. Here we find it in the power of an absolute monarchy, and it is terrible to contemplate. Four things are suggested.

I. IT PRACTICALLY IGNORES THE RIGHTS OF MAN AS MAN. "And makest man as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them." The Babylonian tyrant did not see in the population of Judea men possessing natural endowments, sustaining moral relationships, invested with rights and responsibilities similar to his own fellow men, but merely "fishes;" his object was to catch them and turn them to his own use. It is ever so with selfishness: it blinds man to the claims of his brother. What does the selfish landlord care for the man in the tenants and labourers on his estate? He only values them as they can subserve his interests. What does the selfish employer care for the man in those who work in his service and build up his fortune? He treats them rather as fishes to be used than as brethren to be respected. What does the selfish despot care for the moral humanity of the people over whom he sways his sceptre? He values them only as they can fight his battles, enrich his exchequer, and contribute to his pageantry and pomp. What were men to Alexander? What were men to Napoleon, etc.?

II. IT ASSIDUOUSLY WORKS TO TURN MEN TO ITS OWN USE. "They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag; therefore they rejoice and are glad." Thus they take up all of them, some with the hook one by one, others in shoals as in a net, others in a drag or enclosed net. Ah me! Human life is like a sea—deep, unresting, treacherous; and the teeming millions of men are but as fishes, the weaker devoured by the stronger.

"… the good old rule

Sufficeth them, the simple plan

That they should take who have the power,

And they should keep who can."

(Wordsworth.)

The mighty ones use the hook to oppress individuals one by one, the net and the drag to carry multitudes away. To a rapacious selfishness in power the man is lost in the labourer, the clerk, the employe, the sailor, the soldier, the subject, etc. Men, what are they? To its eye they are goods, chattels, beasts of burden, "fishes"—nothing more. As the fisherman works by various expedients to catch the fish, the selfish man in power is ever active in devising the best expedients to turn human flesh to his own use.

III. IT ADORES SELF ON ACCOUNT OF ITS SUCCESS. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous." They glory even in their crimes, because these result in success. They admire their own dexterity and prowess. The selfish man says to himself, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). According to the measure of a man's selfishness is his propensity to self-worship. The more selfish a merchant, a scholar, a religionist, an author, a preacher, etc; is, the more prone to praise himself for his imaginary success. Because men are everywhere selfish, they are everywhere "sacrificing unto their net, and burning incense unto their drag." The selfish statesman says, "There is no measure like mine;" the selfish sectarian, "There is no Church like mine;" the selfish author, "There is no book like mine;" the selfish preacher, "There is no sermon like mine."

"To our own nets ne'er bow we down,

Lest on the eternal shore

The angels, while our draught they own,

Reject us evermore."

(Keble.)

IV. IT REMAINS INSATIABLE, NOTWITHSTANDING ITS PROSPERITY, "Shall they therefore empty their net?" etc. An old author thus paraphrases the language: "Shall they enrich themselves and fill their own vessels with that which they have by violence and oppression taken away from their neighbours? Shall they empty their net of what they have caught, that they may cast it into the sea again to catch more? And wilt thou suffer them to proceed in this wicked course? Shall they not spare continually to slay the nations? Must the number and wealth of nations be sacrificed to their net?"

CONCLUSION. What an awful picture of the world we have here! All unregenerate men are selfish. Men are everywhere preying on men; and, alas! often those who most lament the universal selfishness are the most selfish. Like the ravenous birds which seem to bewail the sheep when dying, they are ready to pick out their eyes when their opportunity comes. "Where every man is for himself," says an old author, "the devil will have all." This selfishness is the heart of stone in humanity, which must be exchanged for a heart of flesh, or the man will be damned. What but the gospel can effect this change? Oh that those who call themselves Christians would cherish and exemplify that disinterestedness which alone gives title to the name! "I would so live," said Seneca, "as if I knew I had received my being only for the benefit of others."—D.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/habakkuk-1.html. 1897.

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