Habakkuk 1:4
Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
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(4) The law—the Mosaic tôrâh—which ought to be a bond of security and social welfare is “slacked” or “paralyzed;” and is, therefore, unable to do its work. “Judgment” (mishpât, i.e., “redress of evils “) “doth never go forth,” for the wicked have hemmed the righteous in; and, therefore, there are no judicial sentences, save such as favour the wicked.

1:1-11 The servants of the Lord are deeply afflicted by seeing ungodliness and violence prevail; especially among those who profess the truth. No man scrupled doing wrong to his neighbour. We should long to remove to the world where holiness and love reign for ever, and no violence shall be before us. God has good reasons for his long-suffering towards bad men, and the rebukes of good men. The day will come when the cry of sin will be heard against those that do wrong, and the cry of prayer for those that suffer wrong. They were to notice what was going forward among the heathen by the Chaldeans, and to consider themselves a nation to be scourged by them. But most men presume on continued prosperity, or that calamities will not come in their days. They are a bitter and hasty nation, fierce, cruel, and bearing down all before them. They shall overcome all that oppose them. But it is a great offence, and the common offence of proud people, to take glory to themselves. The closing words give a glimpse of comfort.Therefore - i. e., Because God seemed not to awake to avenge His own cause, people promised themselves that they might sin on with impunity. Sin produces sin, and wrong produces wrong; it spreads like an infectious disease, propagating itself, and each, to whom it reaches, adds to its poison. At last, it reached those also, who should be in God's stead to restrain it. The divine law itself is silenced, by the power of the wicked, by the sin of the judge, the hopelessness of all. When all around is evil, even those not yet lost are tempted to think; "Why should I be other than they? What evil befalls them? Why stand alone?" Even a Psalmist Psalm 73:15, Psalm 73:12-13 speaks as if tempted to "speak even as they. These are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches; verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency;" and Solomon Ecclesiastes 8:11, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."

The law is slacked - literally "is chilled" (as we say, "is paralyzed"), through lack of the fire of love. This is what our Lord says Matthew 24:12, Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. The divine law, the source of all right, being chilled in people's hearts, "judgment," i. e., the sentence of human justice, as conformed to divine justice, "doth never go forth." Human sense of right is powerless, when there is not the love of God's law. It seems always ready to act, but always falls short, like an arrow from an unstrung bow. The man seems always about to do right; he judges, sees, aright - all but does it - yet, at last, he always fails. "It goes not forth. The children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth" Isaiah 37:3.

For the wicked doth compass about the righteous, laying snares for him, as the Jews for our Lord; evil is too strong for a weak will to do right, and overbears it. Pilate sought in many ways, how he might deliver Jesus, yet he finally did deliver Christ into their hands.

Therefore wrong judgment proceedeth - literally, "judgment proceedeth wrested." He had said, "it never goes forth;" never, that is, in its true character; for, when it does "go forth," it is distorted. Dion.: "For gifts or favor or fear or hate the guiltless are condemned trod the guilty acquitted, as saith the Psalmist Psalm 82:2, 'How long will ye judge unjustly and accept the persons of the ungodly?'" Theoph.: "'Judgment goes forth perverted' in the seat of man's judgment (the soul), when, bribed by the pleasures of sense, it leans to the side of things seen, and the ungodly one, the rebel angel, besets and overpowers him who has the sense of right; for it is right that things seen should give way to things unseen 2 Corinthians 4:18; 'for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.'" Why then all this? And how long? Why does God bring it before him and He who "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, behold grievance," which His Holy Eyes could not endure? Neither the unseen presence of God nor the mission of the prophet checks. If he rebukes, no one hearkened; if he intercedes for sinners, or against sin, God made as though He would not hear. God answers that, though to man's impatience the time seems long, judgment shall come, and that, suddenly and speedily. While the righteous is enquiring, "how long?" and the wicked is saying Matthew 24:48, "My Lord delayeth His coming," He is come, and seen in the midst of them.

4. Therefore—because Thou dost suffer such crimes to go unpunished.

law is slacked—is chilled. It has no authority and secures no respect.


wrong judgment proceedeth—Decisions are given contrary to right.

Therefore; because the wicked go on with impunity, and the punishment they deserve is deferred.

The law of God, given to this people by the hand of Moses, the whole law, moral, ceremonial, and judicial.

Is slacked; is slighted, weakened, and little studied, and less obeyed by all sorts.

And judgment; not only private men neglect the law, but magistrates, judges, and public officers pervert, or divert, or obstruct it also.

Doth never go forth, Heb. to the end, or, unto victory, with prevalence to restrain the unjust, and to protect the innocent, which is the end of magistracy, Romans 13:3.

The wicked; the unjust and violent man. Doth compass about; as it were besiegeth, surroundeth, with design to oppress and ruin by false witness, interest, or bribery.

Wrong judgment; perverse judgment, wherein innocence is condemned and the guilty are acquitted: so the judges are swords in the bowels, when they should be shields over the bodies of the righteous.

Therefore the law is slacked,.... Is not put into execution against offenders: the civil magistrates, whose office it is to do justice according to law, are dilatory, and do not proceed with vigour and spirit against the transgressors of it, and in favour of honest and good men oppressed: or "it intermits" (r), or is "intermitted"; it is like a man whose pulse beats low, and is scarce perceived, which is a sign that he is not in good health as the body politic is not, when the law, which is the soul of it, is not suffered to take place, and do its office. So the Targum,

"the law languishes;''

loses its force and vigour, and is ready to expire; which is a sad symptom of the bad estate of a commonwealth.

And judgment doth never go forth; at least not right, to the justifying of the righteous, acquitting the innocent, and giving the cause on the right side; condemning the wicked, and punishing offenders as their crime deserves: it never appears as it should do; it is either not done at all, or done badly and perversely:

for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; to hurt him or ensnare him, and by frauds and wicked artifices, and false witnesses, to carry a cause against him:

therefore wrong judgment proceedeth; the cause is given on the wrong side, against a good man, and for a wicked man; all these things the prophet saw with grief, and complained of to the Lord, from whom he has an answer in the following words:

(r) "intermittitur", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Burkius; "est, animi deliquium pati", Tarnovius.

Therefore the law is feeble, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth {b} surround the righteous; therefore judgment goeth forth {c} perverted

(b) To suppress him, if any should show himself zealous of God's cause.

(c) Because the judges who should remedy this excess, are as evil as the rest.

4. law is slacked] lit. numbed, rigid, i.e. motionless, paralysed and ineffectual. The term “law” (torah) means properly divine instruction given orally at the mouth of the priest (Jeremiah 18:18; Malachi 2:6-7); then also that given orally by the prophet (Isaiah 1:10), and more generally any oral instruction (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 6:20). In a wider sense it is divine instruction regarding any subject, particularly matters of ritual; then specially of the law of Moses in Deuteronomy, and finally of the whole Pentateuch. In some cases the word seems generalized to mean the revelation as a whole communicated to Israel, particularly as being essentially the true knowledge of the true God, which it is the mission of Israel the servant of the Lord to impart to the nations, Isaiah 42:4; cf. Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 51:4. Parallel to the word in this use is the term “judgment,” e.g. Isaiah 42:3-4 “till he have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall look unto his torah.” See next clause.

judgment doth never go forth] The word “never” does not seem anywhere to mean “at no time,” “on no occasion,” it appears always to refer to the future, e.g. Psalm 10:11; Isaiah 13:20; Amos 8:7. The words must therefore be rendered: and judgment shall never go forth—a sense unsuitable to the connexion.

It is probable that the word has here some modified meaning, and that the sense is akin to Isaiah 42:3 “judgment unto truth,” or, according to truth, paraphrased “unto victory” Matthew 12:20. “Law” here hardly means the specific decision of the priest on particular questions, nor “judgment” the sentence of the magistrate in particular causes; rather the sense is: law, i.e. moral (social) law (Amos 2:4; Hosea 4:6) is paralysed and cannot assert its validity, and judgment, i.e. “right,” comes not forth in its fulness, but is seen maimed. Others, as Wellhausen, take law and judgment in the sense they have in Isaiah 40 seq., of the true religion of Jehovah, and consider the prophet’s complaint to be that the predominance of the heathen powers represses the true religion and prevents its expansion and effectiveness. This sense is less in harmony with the other statements of the passage.

the wicked doth compass about the righteous] Unlike its use in Psalm 142:7 “compass” is employed here in a hostile sense, to hem in, so as to impair one’s liberties and just rights (Job 3:23). Both “righteous” and “wicked” are collective terms, referring to classes. The antithesis was used not only of two classes in Israel (Isaiah 3:10-11; Isaiah 5:23; Isaiah 11:4; Zephaniah 1:3), but particularly in later times “wicked” was used of the heathen nations and “righteous” of Israel. The antithesis is taken in the latter sense here by those who consider Habakkuk 1:1-4 to refer to heathen oppressions, cf. Habakkuk 1:13.

wrong judgment proceedeth] As R.V.: therefore judgment goeth forth perverted, i.e. “right,” the good cause of the righteous, fails to prevail.

Verse 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" (Septuagint); 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 (Judges 20:43; Psalm 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 1:4The prophet's lamentation. Hab 1:2. "How long, Jehovah, have I cried, and Thou hearest not? I cry to Thee, Violence; and Thou helpest not! Habakkuk 1:3. 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. Habakkuk 1:4. Therefore the law is benumbed, and justice comes not forth for ever: for sinners encircle the righteous man; therefore justice goes forth perverted." This complaint, which involves a petition for help, is not merely an expression of the prophet's personal desire for the removal of the prevailing unrighteousness; but the prophet laments, in the name of the righteous, i.e., the believers in the nation, who had to suffer under the oppression of the wicked; not, however, as Rosenmller and Ewald, with many of the Rabbins, suppose, over the acts of wickedness and violence which the Chaldaeans performed in the land, but over the wicked conduct of the ungodly of his own nation. For it is obvious that these verses refer to the moral depravity of Judah, from the fact that God announced His purpose to raise up the Chaldaeans to punish it (Habakkuk 1:5.). It is true that, in Habakkuk 1:9 and Habakkuk 1:13, wickedness and violence are attributed to the Chaldaeans also; but all that can be inferred from this is, that "in the punishment of the Jewish people a divine talio prevails, which will eventually fall upon the Chaldaeans also" (Delitzsch). The calling for help (שׁוּע is described, in the second clause, as crying over wickedness. חמס is an accusative, denoting what he cries, as in Job 19:7 and Jeremiah 20:8, viz., the evil that is done. Not hearing is equivalent to not helping. The question עד־אנה indicates that the wicked conduct has continued a long time, without God having put a stop to it. This appears irreconcilable with the holiness of God. Hence the question in Habakkuk 1:3 : Wherefore dost Thou cause me to see mischief, and lookest upon it Thyself? which points to Numbers 23:21, viz., to the words of Balaam, "God hath not beheld iniquity ('âven) in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness (‛âmâl) in Israel." This word of God, in which Balaam expresses the holiness of Israel, which remains true to the idea of its divine election, is put before the Lord in the form of a question, not only to give prominence to the falling away of the people from their divine calling, and their degeneracy into the very opposite of what they ought to be, but chiefly to point to the contradiction involved in the fact, that God the Holy One does now behold the evil in Israel and leave it unpunished. God not only lets the prophet see iniquity, but even looks at Himself. This is at variance with His holiness. און, nothingness, then worthlessness, wickedness (cf. Isaiah 1:13). עמל, labour, then distress which a man experiences or causes to others (cf. Isaiah 10:1). הבּיט, to see, not to cause to see. Ewald has revoked the opinion, that we have here a fresh hiphil, derived from a hiphil. With שׁד וגו the address is continued in the form of a simple picture. Shōd vechâmâs are often connected (e.g., Amos 3:10; Jeremiah 6:7; Jeremiah 20:8; Ezekiel 45:9). Shōd is violent treatment causing desolation. Châmâs is malicious conduct intended to injure another. ווהי, it comes to pass, there arises strife (rı̄bh) in consequence of the violent and wicked conduct. ישּׂא, to rise up, as in Hosea 13:1; Psalm 89:10. The consequences of this are relaxation of the law, etc. על־כּן, therefore, because God does not interpose to stop the wicked conduct. פּוּג, to relax, to stiffen, i.e., to lose one's vital strength, or energy. Tōrâh is "the revealed law in all its substance, which was meant to be the soul, the heart of political, religious, and domestic life" (Delitzsch). Right does not come forth, i.e., does not manifest itself, lânetsach, lit., for a permanence, i.e., for ever, as in many other passages, e.g., Psalm 13:2; Isaiah 13:20. לנצח belongs to לא, not for ever, i.e., never more. Mishpât is not merely a righteous verdict, however; in which case the meaning would be: There is no more any righteous verdict given, but a righteous state of things, objective right in the civil and political life. For godless men (רשׁע, without an article, is used with indefinite generality or in a collective sense) encircle the righteous man, so that the righteous cannot cause right to prevail. Therefore right comes forth perverted. The second clause, commencing with על־כּן, completes the first, adding a positive assertion to the negative. The right, which does still come to the light, is מעקּל, twisted, perverted, the opposite of right. To this complaint Jehovah answers in Habakkuk 1:5-11 that He will do a marvellous work, inflict a judgment corresponding in magnitude to the prevailing injustice.
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