Habakkuk 1:13
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
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(13) The prophet’s confidence is tempered, however, with anxious fear. Why does not God show plainly that He authorises this visitation? The triumph of this godless invader appears to impugn God’s majesty.

Habakkuk 1:13-17. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil — Thou art of too just and pure a nature to approve of wickedness: it must ever be an abomination to thee. Thou canst not look upon iniquity — Except with infinite abhorrence. Wherefore lookest thou upon them — Seemest to connive at, or dost not show any particular dislike at the violence of those idolatrous Chaldeans? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, &c. — By delivering them to Nebuchadnezzar, who takes them in his net, as a fisherman takes fishes; which creatures suffer themselves to be taken without resistance, because they have no power to defend themselves. As the creeping things that have no ruler, &c. — No chief to conduct or guard them. The Hebrews give the common name of reptiles to all fishes. They take up all of them with the angle — The prophet, having in the preceding verse compared men to fishes, continues here, by way of metaphor, to describe the advantages which the Chaldeans gained over other nations, by the several ways used by fishermen in taking fishes, as by catching them with the angle, enclosing them in nets, and gathering them in drags. Therefore they rejoice and are glad — On account of the prey they take; that is, the Chaldeans rejoice in taking a great number of captives, and gathering rich spoils, as fishermen rejoice when they catch a great number of fishes. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, &c. — They impute all their victories to their own strength and skill, or to idols of their own making, and render no acknowledgments to God for their success. Because by them their portion is fat, &c. — Because by means of their victories they get abundance of rich spoil. Shall they therefore empty their net — Carry away the riches and spoils of their conquests, (see 2 Kings 24:13,) in order to undertake more; just as fishermen empty their nets to fill them again. But the words may be properly rendered, Shall he therefore spread his net? in which sense the Vulgate, as also the Greek and Chaldee, here interpret the Hebrew verb ירוק, a word often used of drawing or unsheathing a sword or spear. And not spare continually to slay the nations — Wilt thou suffer them to go on to make havoc continually of all other nations? Shall they never be stopped in their career?

1:12-17 However matters may be, yet God is the Lord our God, our Holy One. We are an offending people, he is an offended God, yet we will not entertain hard thoughts of him, or of his service. It is great comfort that, whatever mischief men design, the Lord designs good, and we are sure that his counsel shall stand. Though wickedness may prosper a while, yet God is holy, and does not approve the wickedness. As he cannot do iniquity himself, so he is of purer eyes than to behold it with any approval. By this principle we must abide, though the dispensations of his providence may for a time, in some cases, seem to us not to agree with it. The prophet complains that God's patience was abused; and because sentence against these evil works and workers was not executed speedily, their hearts were the more fully set in them to do evil. Some they take up as with the angle, one by one; others they catch in shoals, as in their net, and gather them in their drag, their enclosing net. They admire their own cleverness and contrivance: there is great proneness in us to take the glory of outward prosperity to ourselves. This is idolizing ourselves, sacrificing to the drag-net because it is our own. God will soon end successful and splendid robberies. Death and judgment shall make men cease to prey on others, and they shall be preyed on themselves. Let us remember, whatever advantages we possess, we must give all the glory to God.Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil - The prophet repeats his complaint (as troubling thoughts are accustomed to come back, after they have been repelled,), in order to answer it more strongly. All sin is hateful in God's sight, and in His Holy Wisdom He cannot endure to "look toward iniquity." As man turns away from sickening sights, so God's abhorrence of wrong is pictured by His not being able to "look toward it." If He looked toward them, they must perish Psalm 104:32. Light cannot co-exist with darkness, fire with water, heat with cold, deformity with beauty, foulness with sweetness, nor is sin compatible with the Presence of God, except as its Judge and punisher. Thou canst not look. There is an entire contradiction between God and unholiness. And yet,

Wherefore lookest thou upon - viewest, as in Thy full sight make the contrast stronger. God cannot endure "to look toward" (אל) iniquity, and yet He does not only this, but beholdeth it, contemplateth it, and still is silent), yea, as it would seem, with favor , bestowing upon them the goods of this life, honor, glory, children, riches, as the Psalmist saith Psalm 73:12; "Behold these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world, they increase in riches?" Why lookest thou upon "them that deal treacherously, holdest Thy tongue," puttest restraint , as it were, upon Thyself and Thine own attribute of Justice, "when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" Psalm 143:2 "in God's sight no man living can be justified;" and, in one sense, Sodom and Gomorrah were less unrighteous than Jerusalem, and Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:24; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:12 "it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of Judgment," because they sinned against less light; yet the actual sins of the Chaldee were greater than those of Jerusalem, and Satan's evil is greater than that of these who are his prey.

To say that Judah was more righteous than the Chaldaean does not imply any righteousness of the Chaldaean, as the saying that (Jeremiah 31:11, Del.) "God ransomed Jacob from the hand of one stronger than he," does not imply any strength remaining to Israel. Then, also, in all the general judgments of God, the righteous too suffer in this world, whence Abraham intercedes for Sodom, if there were but ten righteous in it; lest Genesis 18:23 "the righteous be destroyed with the wicked." Hence, God also spared Nineveh in part as having Jonah 4:11 "more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand," i. e., good from evil. No times were more full of sin than those before the destruction of Jerusalem, yet the fury of the Assassins fell upon the innocent. And so the words, like the voice of the souls under the Altar Revelation 6:10, become the cry of the Church at all times against the oppressing world, and of the blood of the martyrs from Abel to the end, "Lord, how long?" And in that the word "righteous" signifies both "one righteous man," and the whole class or generation of the righteous, it speaks both of Christ the Head and of all His members in whom (as by Saul) He was persecuted. The wicked also includes all persecutors, both those who executed the Lord Christ, and those who brought His servants before judgment-seats, and who blasphemed His Name James 2:6-7, and caused many to blaspheme, and killed those whom they could not compel. And God, all the while, seemeth to look away and not to regard.

13. purer … than to behold evil—without being displeased at it.

canst not look on iniquity—unjust injuries done to Thy people. The prophet checks himself from being carried too far in his expostulatory complaint, by putting before himself honorable sentiments of God.

them that deal treacherously—the Chaldeans, once allies of the Jews, but now their violent oppressors. Compare "treacherous dealers," (Isa 21:2; 24:16). Instead of speaking evil against God, he goes to God Himself for the remedy for his perplexity (Ps 73:11-17).

devoureth the man that is more righteous—The Chaldean oppresses the Jew, who with all his faults, is better than his oppressor (compare Eze 16:51, 52).

Thou, O Lord, who hast raised and increased the Chaldean kingdom.

Art of purer; of infinite purity and holiness.

Eyes, ascribed unto God to express his knowledge; so his eves run to and fro, and his eye is upon the righteous.

Than to behold: his omniscience doth behold all things, and so David expresseth it,

Thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it, Psalm 10:14; but he doth not, will not, cannot, see with delight, with approbation, evil, of sin and violence.

And canst not look on iniquity; the same thing repeated to confirm us. All this the prophet doth lay down as most undoubtedly true, and on which he stays himself (though he be amazed with the darkness of providences); and by this he will repress all undue murmurings, when he debates with God about his providences: most just and holy; but why thus or thus?

Wherefore lookest; seest all the violence done, and bearest with them that do it; why doth not thy hand remove and avenge what thine eye is offended at, and thy heart abhorreth?

Them that deal treacherously; the Chaldeans, who were a perfidious nation, and ruined many by their treacheries; fraud and force were both alike to them. And it is likely they dealt very falsely with the Jews.

Holdest thy tongue; seemest unconcerned in such a degree as to be silent and say nothing.

When, or whilst; it might seem a fit season to speak, when the violent are about their violence, when the prey is between the teeth and not swallowed.

The wicked; the Chaldean, an oppressor, bloody and treacherous against men, an atheist or idolater against God.

Devoureth; swalloweth down whole, as the word imports, Numbers 16:30 Psalm 124:3. The man; the Jew, or almost every one of us, as the phrase imports.

More righteous than he: though the Jews were a very corrupt nation, yet, compared with the Chaldeans, they were the better, and of the two the Jew was the less evil. Now this riddle he desired might be unfolded, Why is the juster oppressed by the unjuster?

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity,.... The Lord with his eyes of omniscience beholds all things good and evil, and all men good and bad, with all their actions; but then he does not look upon the sins of men with pleasure and approbation; since they are contrary to his nature, repugnant to his will, and breaches of his righteous law: and though sin in general may be included here, yet there seems to be a particular respect had to the "evil" or injury done by the Chaldeans to the Jews, in invading their land, spoiling their substance, and slaying their persons; and to the "iniquity", labour, or grievance, by which may be meant the oppression and violence the same people exercised upon the inhabitants of Judea; which, though permitted by the Lord, could not be well pleasing in his sight. The Targum interprets it of persons, workers of evil, and workers of the labour of falsehood; see Psalm 5:4,

wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously; the Chaldeans, who dealt treacherously with God, by worshipping idols; and with the Jews, pretending to be their good friends and allies, when they meditated their ruin and destruction; and yet the Lord in his providence seemed to look favourably on these perfidious persons, since they succeeded in all their enterprises: this was stumbling to the prophet, and all good men; and they knew not how, or at least found great difficulty, to reconcile this to the purity and holiness of God, and to his justice and faithfulness; see Jeremiah 12:1,

and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? the comparison does not lie so much personally between Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah the last king of the Jews, whose eyes the king of Babylon put out, and whom he used in a cruel manner; who was, no doubt, comparatively speaking, a more righteous person than the Chaldean monarch was; being not the worst of the kings of Judea, and whose name has the signification of righteousness in it: but rather between the Chaldeans and the Jews; who, though there were many wicked persons among them, yet there were some truly righteous, who fell in the common calamity; and, as to the bulk of them, were a more righteous people, at the worst, than their enemies were, who devoured them, destroyed many with the sword, plundered them of their substance, and carried them captive; and the Lord was silent all this while, said nothing in his providence against them, put no stop to their proceedings; and by his silence seemed to approve of, at least to connive at, what they did; and this the prophet in the name of good men reasons with the Lord about.

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
13. thou art of purer eyes] lit. O thou of pure eyes so as not (to be able) to see evil, and who canst not look upon wrongdoing. Psalm 5:4-5 “evil cannot dwell with thee.”

treacherously] Or, ruthlessly, tyrannically.

holdest thy tongue … devoureth] holdest thy peace … swalloweth up. Isaiah 42:14, “I have long time holden my peace, I have been still and refrained myself; now &c.” Psalm 50:21.

more righteous than he] The “wicked” is the Chaldean conqueror; the “righteous” is generalized to include the other nations, victims of the Chaldean barbarities, though Israel may be specially in the prophet’s mind. But in Habakkuk 1:12-17 the prophet speaks out of the heart of mankind (cf. Nahum, Introd. § 4). The anomaly is that the righteous God, whose nature cannot endure wrong, looks on and is silent over this wrong which is as large as the human race.

Verse 13. - Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil (comp. Habakkuk 1:3). God cannot look with complacency on evil (Psalm 5:5, 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 1:13The believing confidence expressed in this verse does not appear to be borne out by what is actually done by God. The prophet proceeds to lay this enigma before God in Habakkuk 1:13-17, and to pray for his people to be spared during the period of the Chaldaean affliction. Habakkuk 1:13. "Art Thou too pure of eye to behold evil, and canst Thou not look upon distress? Wherefore lookest Thou upon the treacherous? and art silent when the wicked devours one more righteous than he? Habakkuk 1:14. And Thou hast made men like fishes of the sea, like reptiles that have no ruler. Habakkuk 1:15. All of them hath he lifted up with the hook; he draws them into his net, and gathers them in his fishing net; he rejoices thereat, and is glad. Habakkuk 1:16. Therefore he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense to his landing net; for through them is his portion rich, and his food fat. Habakkuk 1:17. Shall he therefore empty his net, and always strangle nations without sparing?" In Habakkuk 1:13, טהור עינים, with the two clauses dependent upon it, stands as a vocative, and טהור followed by מן as a comparative: purer of eyes than to be able to see. This epithet is applied to God as the pure One, whose eyes cannot bear what is morally unclean, i.e., cannot look upon evil. The purity of God is not measured here by His seeing evil, but is described as exalted above it, and not coming at all into comparison with it. On the relation in which these words stand to Numbers 23:21, see the remarks on Habakkuk 1:3. In the second clause the infinitive construction passes over into the finite verb, as is frequently the case; so that אשׁר must be supplied in thought: who canst not look upon, i.e., canst not tolerate, the distress which the wicked man prepares for others. Wherefore then lookest Thou upon treacherous ones, namely, the Chaldaeans? They are called בּוגדים, from their faithlessly deceptive and unscrupulously rapacious conduct, as in Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16. That the seeing is a quiet observance, without interposing to punish, is evident from the parallel תּחרישׁ: Thou art silent at the swallowing of the צדיק ממּנּוּ. The more righteous than he (the ungodly one) is not the nation of Israel as such, which, if not perfectly righteous, was relatively more righteous than the Chaldaeans. This rabbinical view is proved to be erroneous, by the fact that in Habakkuk 1:2 and Habakkuk 1:3 the prophet describes the moral depravity of Israel in the same words as those which he here applies to the conduct of the Chaldaeans. The persons intended are rather the godly portion of Israel, who have to share in the expiation of the sins of the ungodly, and suffer when they are punished (Delitzsch). This fact, that the righteous is swallowed along with the unrighteous, appears irreconcilable with the holiness of God, and suggests the inquiry, how God can possibly let this be done.

This strange fact is depicted still further in Habakkuk 1:14-16 in figures taken from the life of a fisherman. The men are like fishes, whom the Chaldaean collects together in his net, and then pays divine honour to his net, by which he has been so enriched. ותּעשׂה is not dependent upon למּה, but continues the address in a simple picture, in which the imperfect with Vav convers. represents the act as the natural consequence of the silence of God: "and so Thou makest the men like fishes," etc. The point of comparison lies in the relative clause לא־משׁל בּו, "which has no ruler," which is indeed formally attached to כּרמשׂ alone, but in actual fact belongs to דּגי היּם also. "No ruler," to take the defenceless under his protection, and shelter and defend them against enemies. Then will Judah be taken prisoner and swallowed up by the Chaldaeans. God has given it helplessly up to the power of its foes, and has obviously ceased to be its king. Compare the similar lamentation in Isaiah 63:19 : "are even like those over whom Thou hast never ruled." רמשׂ, the creeping thing, the smaller animals which exist in great multitudes, and move with great swiftness, refers here to the smaller water animals, to which the word remes is also applied in Psalm 104:25, and the verb râmas in Genesis 1:21 and Leviticus 11:46. כּלּה, pointing back to the collective 'âdâm, is the object, and is written first for the sake of emphasis. The form העלה, instead of העלה, is analogous to the hophal העלה in Nahum 2:8 and Judges 6:28, and also to העברתּ in Joshua 7:7 : to take up out of the water (see Ges. 63, Anm. 4). יגרהוּ from גרר, to pull, to draw together. Chakkâh is the hook, cherem the net generally, mikhmereth the large fishing-net (σαγήνη), the lower part of which, when sunk, touches the bottom, whilst the upper part floats on the top of the water. These figures are not to be interpreted with such specialty 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 Chaldaeans 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." He rejoices over the success of his enterprises, over this capture of men, and sacrifices and burns incense to his net, i.e., he attributes to the means which he has employed the honour due to God. There is no allusion in these words to the custom of the Scythians and Sauromatians, who are said by Herodotus (iv. 59, 60) to have offered sacrifices every year to a sabre, which was set up as a symbol of Mars. What the Chaldaean made into his god, is expressed in Habakkuk 1:11, namely, his own power. "He who boasts of a thing, and is glad and joyous on account of it, but does not thank the true God, makes himself into an idol, gives himself the glory, and does not rejoice in God, but in his own strength and work" (Luther). The Chaldaean sacrifices to his net, for thereby (בּהמּה, by net and yarn) his portion (chelqō) is fat, i.e., the portion of this booty which falls to him, and fat is his food ( בּראה is a neuter substantive). The meaning is, that he thereby attains to wealth and prosperity. In Habakkuk 1:17 there is appended to this the question embracing the thought: Shall he therefore, because he rejoices over his rich booty, or offers sacrifice to his net, empty his net, sc. to throw it in afresh, and proceed continually to destroy nations in so unsparing a manner? In the last clause the figure passes over into a literal address. The place of the imperfect is now taken by a periphrastic construction with the infinitive: Shall he constantly be about to slay? On this construction, see Ges. 132, 3, Anm. 1, and Ewald, 237, c. לא יחמול is a subordinate clause appended in an adverbial sense: unsparingly, without sparing.

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