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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Habakkuk 1

 

 

Verse 1

1. The title.

Burden — See on Nahum 1:1 (compare “take up,” Habakkuk 2:6).

Habakkuk — See Introduction to Habakkuk.

Did see — During the earlier period of Israelitish history dreams and visions appear to have been common vehicles of divine revelation (Numbers 12:6); and it was during that period that the prophetic terminology originated. In the early days the prophets “did see” and “had visions,” but during the golden age of Hebrew prophecy dreams and visions became less common; the ancient terminology, however, was retained (compare Habakkuk 2:1-4; Nahum 1:1; Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1, etc.).


Verses 2-4

2. How long shall I cry — Literally, have I cried. The Hebrew verb implies the idea “for help,” that is, to bring about a change in the terrible condition in which the prophet finds himself.

Cry out unto thee of violence — A further description of the prophet’s cry; literally, I cry unto thee violence. The substance of his cry is the violence of his countrymen; the noun denotes wrongdoing and injury of every kind (Job 19:7; Jeremiah 20:8). Though the prophet, has cried again and again, Jehovah has paid no attention.

Hear… save — The fact that Jehovah did not interfere in behalf of the oppressed seemed conclusive evidence that he did not hear the prophet’s cry. It is not to be supposed that the prophet was the only one in Judah who still cried to Jehovah; but because of his intimate fellowship with Jehovah he felt the unrighteousness most keenly; besides, like his contemporary Jeremiah, he may have had to suffer in his own person from the ungodly. The cry uttered by him must have found an echo in the hearts of all who remained loyal to Jehovah.

The prophet’s perplexity finds further expression in Habakkuk 1:3.

Why dost thou show me iniquity — The Hebrew word translated “iniquity” is used sometimes with the meaning “affliction,” but more frequently, as here, of moral evil and wickedness (compare Numbers 23:21). This moral evil the prophet is compelled to look upon, but he is convinced that Jehovah has power to stop it, and since he takes no steps toward this he is responsible for its presence. But how can a holy God remain silent in the presence of evil? A serious problem indeed (see on Amos 3:6; Amos 4:6-11; compare Job 23:16-17).

Grievance — R.V., “perverseness.” Primarily, labor, toil; in a secondary sense, trouble or distress experienced as a result of oppression or injustice. Here the distress caused by the “violent” and suffered by the oppressed (Isaiah 10:1).

Spoiling — R.V., “destruction.” Violent treatment resulting in destruction.

Violence — Malicious conduct to injure another. The two words are frequently combined (Amos 3:10; Jeremiah 6:7; Jeremiah 20:8).

Strife and contention — Among the members of the Jewish nation; the result of violent and wicked conduct.

The consequence of all this is a state of anarchy, described in Habakkuk 1:4.

Therefore — Because Jehovah has allowed wickedness to proceed unhindered.

The law — See on Hosea 4:6. Here the term includes the revealed will of Jehovah concerning life and conduct, whatever the method of making it known, or the form in which it existed.

Is slacked — Literally, has become numb; has lost its vitality and efficiency.

Judgment — The word means sometimes a legal decision; if so here, a legal decision to put an end to wickedness and injustice. It might be rendered also, with R.V., “justice,” that is, a righteous and equitable state of things in the civic and political life.

Doth never go forth — An obscure expression. Margin R.V. offers as an alternative, “goeth not forth unto victory.” This rendering is based upon the explanation of the word translated “forever” (“never” minus the negative) in the sense of truth, with which translation may be compared Isaiah 42:3, “justice in truth,” reproduced in Matthew 12:20, “judgment unto victory.” It is better, however, to retain the ordinary rendering “not forever” or “never.” The thought of the clause seems to be: In the present hopeless condition there is no prospect that order, or civic and political righteousness, will ever manifest itself again.

Instead of a causal clause 4b might be understood (G.-K., 148d) as an exclamation, “Indeed, the wicked doth compass about the righteous!” In a hostile sense (Job 3:23; not as in Psalms 142:7). The two nouns are used in a collective sense of two classes within the nation (see Introduction, p. 467; Isaiah 3:10-11; Isaiah 5:23; Zephaniah 1:3). In later times it became customary to refer to heathen oppressors as the wicked in distinction from the righteous Israel. The godless in Israel encompassed the righteous to destroy them.

Wrong judgment proceedeth — R.V., “justice goeth forth perverted.” It is the constant complaint of the prophets that under the guise of law rankest injustice was done (Amos 5:7; Isaiah 1:23; Jeremiah 22:16-17, etc.).


Verses 5-8

JEHOVAH’S REPLY TO THE PROPHET’S PERPLEXED CRY, Habakkuk 1:5-11.

Jehovah meets the perplexity of his servant by declaring that he is not indifferent, and that punishment is about to be meted out by his agents, the Chaldeans, a terrible and dreadful nation, before which nothing can stand.

Behold ye among the heathen — R.V., “nations.” If this is the correct reading the prophet and the people are addressed; they are to look about among the nations to see the wonderful things Jehovah is about to accomplish. LXX. and Peshitto read “ye despisers” for “among the nations.” If this is original, as is not impossible, the “wicked” of Habakkuk 1:4 are addressed.

Wonder marvelously — LXX. adds “and perish.” Why are they to look and wonder?

I will work — R.V., “I am working”; margin, which produces the Hebrew more accurately, “one worketh.” However, the ordinary translation is not impossible, and the context (Habakkuk 1:6) makes the translation “I” almost certain. The rendering “I am about to work” would express more clearly the idea of imminence.

Which ye will not believe, though it be told you — Better, which ye would not believe though (if) it were told you; that is, as having occurred in another place and at some other time. The event will be so extraordinary that only eyewitnesses can believe it (compare Acts 13:41).

The awful thing Jehovah is about to do is stated in Habakkuk 1:6 ff.

I raise up the Chaldeans — Better, I am about to raise up (G.-K., 116p). On Chaldeans see Introduction, pp. 468ff, and Nahum, p. 431. The reference is not to the first appearance of the Chaldeans in history or as a world power, for the following verses indicate that they were already well known as cruel, bloodthirsty conquerors, but to their first advance against Judah; they will be summoned by Jehovah to execute judgment upon the wicked (Habakkuk 1:4). Some manuscripts of LXX. add “against you.”

Bitter — Rough, or fierce (Judges 18:25; 2 Samuel 17:8).

Hasty — Violent; “driven headlong by violent impulse” (Isaiah 32:4). As world conquerors they march through the whole extent of the earth and take possession of territories not their own (Habakkuk 2:6; Deuteronomy 6:10-11).

Habakkuk 1:7 depicts further the fierce disposition of the Chaldeans. The nation is personified as a hero, hence the Hebrew has the singular pronoun (see margin).

Terrible — Exciting terror (Song of Solomon 6:4; Song of Solomon 6:10).

Dreadful — Creating alarm. This is the word ordinarily translated “terrible” in the Old Testament.

Their judgment — The decisions determining their conduct (Psalms 17:2).

Dignity — Or, eminence; the sovereignty which they assume over the nations of the world (Genesis 49:3; Hosea 13:1).

Proceed of themselves — They acknowledge no superior, not even Jehovah, to determine their course for them. According to their own pleasure they map out their plans and through the power of their own arms they overthrow the nations.

Habakkuk 1:8 describes the irresistible advance of their armies (compare Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 5:6).

Their horses also are swifter than the leopards — Tristram describes the leopard as “agile, swift, and when irritated the most terrible and cruel of beasts.” In Jeremiah 4:13, the expression is “swifter than eagles”; Habakkuk mentions the eagle later in the verse.

More fierce — Literally, more sharp. The war horses share their masters’ ferocity. Wildly they dash against the foe.

Evening wolves — The wolves that, after fasting all day, go out in the evening to seek prey; prompted by intense hunger they are especially fierce. LXX., with a slight change of vowels, reads “wolves of Arabia,” which is less suitable (compare Zephaniah 3:3).

Spread themselves — R.V., “press proudly on.” The verb is connected with an Arabic root meaning “to strut proudly”; when used of horsemen it means “to spring along,” “to gallop.” Nothing can stop the onslaught of their horsemen.

Their horsemen shall come from far — The horsemen of the Chaldeans came from the far east. Several commentators are inclined to omit this clause as a marginal gloss to the preceding, because (1) LXX. omits “horsemen”; (2) the repetition of “horsemen” in two successive clauses seems peculiar; (3) the presence of this clause gives an unequal number of clauses, and thus injures the parallelism. Others consider this the original clause and the preceding the gloss. Nowack and others make more thoroughgoing changes and read Habakkuk 1:8, “And swifter than leopards are their (literally, his) horses, and swifter on foot than the evening wolves their horsemen; (and their horsemen come from afar;) they fly as an eagle that hasteth to devour.” As an eagle or vulture (see on Micah 1:16) swoops upon a carcass, so the Chaldean horsemen swoop upon their human prey.


Verses 9-11

9. Their purpose is to rob and to destroy.

For violence — They are without humane feelings; their only object is to do violence.

Their faces shall sup up as the east wind — R.V., “the set of their faces is forwards”; margin, “the eagerness of their faces is towards the east.” A.V. attempts to get from the original the thought that the Chaldeans will devour everything like the destructive east wind (Hosea 13:15); R.V., that their faces are set forward and cannot be turned aside; so also margin R.V. The Hebrew is obscure and the English translations all do more or less violence to it. The original has east, “but as the spectator when reckoning the quarters of the heavens faces the east, it is supposed that eastwards became equivalent to forwards or onwards.” The intention of the prophet is evidently to describe the fierceness of the advance, but it is not unlikely that the text has suffered in transmission. Nowack considers the corruption so hopeless that he does not even attempt a restoration; Marti reads, “They advance in the very face of those who rise up against them”; that is, they are without fear or hesitation. Their captives are “as the sand,” which means numberless. The Assyrian kings frequently boast that they took captives and booty “without number.”

The verbs of Habakkuk 1:10-11 should be rendered, with R.V. in Habakkuk 1:10, as present tenses. Kings and princes are objects of mockery to them, fortresses are taken with the greatest ease.

They shall heap dust [“he heapeth up dust”] — Refers to the casting up of embankments, so that the besiegers may be on a level with the defenders behind the walls (2 Samuel 20:15; Jeremiah 32:24). This is done quickly, and the city falls.

In Habakkuk 1:11 the translation of A.V. is not impossible, but the context favors R.V.: “Then he shall sweep by as a wind, and shall pass over, and be guilty, even he whose might is his god.”

Then — With the fortresses leveled to the ground the victorious army rushes on like a wind to new triumphs.

He passeth over — Irresistibly they sweep through the lands overcoming all obstacles. The two verbs are used together in Isaiah 8:8, of the onward rush of the Assyrians, likened to an overwhelming flood. The translation of margin R.V., “transgresseth,” is not so suitable.

Be guilty (R.V.) — Through the acts just described, equivalent to “and thus he becometh guilty.” The cruelties and outrages constitute a part of their guilt. Another indictment is implied in the last clause.

Even he whose might is his god (R.V.) — This is not a literal translation, but it expresses the thought of the original: “His success intoxicates him, and in his pride of heart he deifies his own might.” Literally it is, “this his might becometh his god”; the construction is peculiar, and the text may be corrupt. For “and be guilty, even he whose might is his god,” Wellhausen, Nowack, and others read, with some changes in the text, “and he maketh his might to be his god,” which gives good sense.


Verse 12

12. The prophet begins with an expression of confidence in his God. A better arrangement of the words would be: —

Art not thou from everlasting, O Jehovah?

My God, my Holy One, not shall we die!

The first line is not an expression of despondency or doubt, but a rhetorical question to pave the way for the expression of confidence in the second line.

From everlasting — Literally, from aforetime. The Hebrew word denotes an ancient period rather than eternity in the modern sense of that term; it is used often of the Mosaic age or other periods in Israel’s past (compare Micah 7:20; Psalms 44:1); even of a former period in a single lifetime (Job 29:2). The exact meaning in a given passage must be determined from the context. Allusion is frequently made to the eternity of Jehovah as a ground of confidence in him (Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 40:28; Psalms 90:2). The English versions arrange the words differently; and some commentators understand them as equivalent to “Art not thou from everlasting my Holy One, O Jehovah, my God?” This arrangement gives to the words a meaning different from that which is indicated above. According to it the prophet is the spokesman of the people, expressing their confidence based not upon Jehovah’s eternity but upon the fact that he has been from everlasting the Holy One of Israel (see on Hosea 11:9), a title of Jehovah very common in Isaiah. As the holy one he is bound to sweep away the wicked Chaldeans.

We shall not die — We shall not be utterly annihilated by the foe which is to be raised up (Habakkuk 1:6). The everlasting God will somehow preserve his people.

According to Jewish tradition “we shall not die” is an emendation of the scribes for “thou (Jehovah) shalt not die.” To speak of Jehovah in connection with death, even to deny his dying, was considered blasphemy by the scribes, therefore they changed the original into the present reading. If the second person is original the second line becomes simply a reiteration of the thought of the first line. The eighteen emendations of the scribes mentioned in Jewish tradition still present difficulties; in the present passage the Masoretic text is preferable. 12b passes to the complaint. Jehovah being the Holy One, his appointment of the godless Chaldeans as instruments of judgment creates a moral difficulty.

For judgment… for correction — Either to execute judgment upon him and to administer correction to him, or, perhaps better, that he may execute punishment upon Judah and the other nations.

The perplexity caused by the appointment alluded to in 12b is further described in Habakkuk 1:13. Can the exaltation of a wicked and violent nation be harmonized with the belief in a holy and pure God? The present attitude seems to contradict the prophet’s conception of the divine character. He has always thought of God as too pure to look upon moral evil and perverseness; since he now selects the most wicked nation as his executioner, the prophet feels justified in challenging Jehovah to defend himself.

Deal treacherously — The Chaldeans are unscrupulous, treacherous, and tyrannical. Is it right for Jehovah to look upon them with favor? Is it right that he should remain silent while they practice wickedness?

The man… more righteous than he — With all their wickedness the people of Jehovah are better than the Chaldeans. How, then, can Jehovah justify himself for making the present choice? The same perplexed questioning is continued in Habakkuk 1:14. Wherefore does Jehovah permit the outrages of the Chaldeans?

Makest men as the fishes of the sea — Defenseless, without rights, readily taken by the skillful fisherman.

As the creeping things — Despised, and without a protector to take an interest in their well-being.

That have no ruler over them — The relative is to be taken with “fishes” and with “creeping things.” They scatter in every direction when danger approaches; no ruler or commander directs their movements. So the nations are reduced to a state of confusion when they learn of the approach of the Chaldeans (compare Isaiah 10:13-14). Jehovah controls the movements of the Chaldeans, and is in a sense responsible for their conduct; but if they have gone beyond the divine commission (Isaiah 47:6-7; compare Isaiah 10:7) why does he not interfere?


Verses 12-17

THE GREATER PERPLEXITY, Habakkuk 1:12-17.

In the beginning the prophet was troubled because Jehovah seemed to look with indifference upon corruption; Jehovah replied that judgment was about to fall, that the Chaldeans were about to include Judah in their conquests. This announcement was accompanied by a recognition of the fierce and brutal character of the Chaldeans and their warfare; hence, far from calming the prophet’s doubts, it only intensified them. Can a holy God, he asks, look in silence upon the wrongs and cruelties perpetrated by the Chaldeans? Judah does, indeed, deserve judgment, but how can Jehovah send the godless Chaldeans to execute it? Is Judah to be annihilated by this monster? Is the triumph of the cruel world conqueror to continue forever? These and similar questions perplex the prophet, and in Habakkuk 1:12-17, we have a description of his struggle with the new problem, which taxes his faith to the uttermost.


Verse 15

15. So far as the prophet can see, Jehovah looks with favor upon their conquests, for they are successful in all their undertakings. The Chaldean armies are personified as a fisherman who makes extraordinary hauls and rejoices greatly in his success.


Verse 16

16. When he sees this wonderful success he makes the implements that have assisted him his gods and pays homage to them; he loses sight entirely of Him under whose direction he acts.

Net,… drag — An expansion of the comparison in Habakkuk 1:14-15. The net and the drag represent the weapons and means used by the conqueror to subdue the nations (Habakkuk 1:11).

Whether the words imply that the Chaldeans, like the Scythians (Herodotus, 4:59, 62), offered sacrifices to their swords, or whether they are only a vivid picture of the glorification and deification of their might, cannot be determined.

Meat — Better, R.V., “food.” Through the conquests wealth and prosperity have been acquired.


Verse 17

17. In Habakkuk 1:7-11 Jehovah is introduced as describing the terribleness of the Chaldean armies; in Habakkuk 1:12 ff, the prophet questions Jehovah, how his attitude toward them can be harmonized with his holiness. Their success in the past has been perplexing enough; how can the prophet explain the new commission intrusted to them?

Shall they therefore empty their nets — Of the fish already caught, so that they may prepare for a new haul. In the last clause the prophet discontinues the use of figurative language, and inquires whether the Chaldeans are to be permitted to continue forever in their career of violence.

The prophet is, indeed, perplexed. Is there no solution? He is not yet ready to give up, and determines to await a divine solution.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Habakkuk 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/habakkuk-1.html. 1874-1909.

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