Habakkuk 1:4
Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment does never go forth: for the wicked does compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceeds.
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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. This judicial interposition on the part of God is occasioned by the sin of Israel. Micah 1:5. "For the apostasy of Jacob (is) all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel. Who is Jacob's apostasy? is it not Samaria? And who Judah's high places? is it not Jerusalem? Micah 1:6. Therefore I make Samaria into a stone-heap of the field, into plantations of vines; and I pour her stones into the valley, and I will lay bare her foundations. Micah 1:7. And all her stone images will be beaten to pieces, and all her lovers' gifts be burned with fire, and all her idols will I make into a waste: for she has gathered them of prostitute's hire, and to prostitute's hire shall they return." "All this" refers to the coming of Jehovah to judgment announced in Micah 1:3, Micah 1:4. This takes place on account of the apostasy and the sins of Israel. ב (for) used to denote reward or wages, as in 2 Samuel 3:27 compared with 2 Samuel 3:30. Jacob and Israel in Micah 1:5 are synonymous, signifying the whole of the covenant nation, as we may see from the fact that in Micah 1:5 Jacob and not Israel is the epithet applied to the ten tribes in distinction from Judah. מי, who? - referring to the author. The apostasy of Israel originates with Samaria; the worship on the high places with Jerusalem. The capitals of the two kingdoms are the authors of the apostasy, as the centres and sources of the corruption which has spread from them over the kingdoms. The allusion to the bâmōth of the illegal worship of the high places, which even the most godly kings were unable to abolish (see at 1 Kings 15:14), shows, moreover, that פּשׁע denotes that religious apostasy from Jehovah which was formally sanctioned in the kingdom of the ten tribes by the introduction of the calf-worship. But because this apostasy commenced in the kingdom of the ten tribes, the punishment would fall upon this kingdom first, and Samaria would be utterly destroyed. Stone-heaps of the field and vineyard plantations harmonize badly, in Hitzig's view: he therefore proposes to alter the text. But there is no necessity for this. The point of comparison is simply that Samaria will be so destroyed, that not a single trace of a city will be left, and the site thereof will become like a ploughed field or plain. השּׂדה is added to עי, a heap of ruins or stones, to strengthen it. Samaria shall become like a heap, not of ruins of building stones, but of stones collected from the field. למטּעי כרם, i.e., into arable land upon which you can plant vineyards. The figure answers to the situation of Samaria upon a hill in a very fruitful region, which was well adapted for planting vineyards (see at Amos 3:9). The situation of the city helps to explain the casting of its stones into the valley. Laying bare the foundations denotes destruction to the very foundation (cf. Psalm 137:7). On the destruction of the city all its idols will be annihilated. Pesı̄lı̄m, idols, as in Isaiah 10:10; not wooden idols, however, to which the expression yukkattū, smitten to pieces, would not apply, but stone idols, from pâsal (Exodus 34:1). By the lovers' gifts ('ethnân, see at Hosea 9:1) we are to understand, not "the riches of the city or their possessions, inasmuch as the idolaters regarded their wealth and prosperity as a reward from their gods, according to Hosea 2:7, Hosea 2:14" (Rashi, Hitzig, and others), but the temple gifts, "gifts suspended in the temples and sacred places in honour of the gods" (Rosenmller), by which the temple worship with its apparatus were maintained; so that by 'ethnân we may understand the entire apparatus of religious worship. For the parallelism of the clauses requires that the word should be restricted to this. עצבּים are also idolatrous images. "To make them into a waste," i.e., not only to divest them of their ornament, but so utterly to destroy them that the place where they once stood becomes waste. The next clause, containing the reason, must not be restricted to the ‛ătsabbı̄m, as Hitzig supposes, but refers to the two clauses of the first hemistich, so that pesı̄lı̄m and ‛ătsabbı̄m are to be supplied as objects to qibbâtsâh (she gathered), and to be regarded as the subject to yâshūbhū (shall return). Samaria gathered together the entire apparatus of her idolatrous worship from prostitute's gifts (the wages of prostitution), namely, through gifts presented by the idolaters. The acquisition of all this is described as the gain of prostitute's wages, according to the scriptural view that idolatry was spiritual whoredom. There is no ground for thinking of literal wages of prostitution, or money which flowed into the temples from the voluptuous worship of Aphrodite, because Micah had in his mind not literal (heathenish) idolatry, but simply the transformation of the Jehovah-worship into idolatry by the worship of Jehovah under the symbols of the golden calves. These things return back to the wagers of prostitution, i.e., they become this once more (cf. Genesis 3:19) by being carried away by the enemies, who conquer the city and destroy it, and being applied to their idolatrous worship. On the capture of cities, the idols and temple treasures were carried away (cf. Isaiah 46:1-2; Daniel 1:3).
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