Woe to him that covets an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9) Woe to him that coveteth . . .—Better, Woe to him who accumulates wicked gain for his house, who sets his nest on high to save himself from the hand of evil—i.e., who gathers spoil from the nations, and stows it away in an impregnable treasure- house. The expression sets his nest on high finds more than sufficient illustration in the exaggerated accounts of Babylon given by Herodotus and Ctesias. The former gives 337½ feet, the latter 300 feet, as the height of its walls. The height of the towers was, according to Ctesias, 420 feet. There were 250 of these towers, irregularly disposed, to guard the weaker parts of the wall. The space included by these colossal outworks was, according to Herodotus, about 200 square miles.
The language of this verse recalls Jeremiah’s rebuke of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:13 seq.). There, however, the sentence is on individual sin, here it is on that of a nation personified.Habakkuk 2:9-11. Wo to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house —
“Which Nebuchadnezzar strove to aggrandize, and which Cyrus cut off.” — Newcome. The translation of the LXX. accords exactly with ours: but the Hebrew, בצע בצע רע, seems to be more exactly rendered by Dr. Wheeler, “Wo unto him that procureth wicked gain for his family:” that is, who endeavours to raise it to a state of wealth and pre-eminence by sinful means. That he may set his nest on high — May exalt himself and his family to such power and greatness, that they shall be out of the reach of all their enemies; that he may be delivered from the power of evil — May be kept secure and out of danger from all below him. This is spoken of Nebuchadnezzar, his family and kingdom; that as birds, guided by instinct, build their nests on the top of rocks and trees, or other places; so the king of Babylon thought, by getting possession of many places strong by their situation, on lofty eminences difficult to come at, as well as by their fortifications, that he, his family, and kingdom, should always be safe and out of danger from any enemy; or, as it is expressed in the text, from the hand of evil. Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, &c. — Thy cruelty toward others will turn at last to thy own confusion, and utter extirpation. And hast sinned against thy own soul — Hast done that which will bring destruction on thyself. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, &c. — The walls of so many cities thrown down, and the ruins of a multitude of houses, will bear witness of thy injustice and cruelty.Habakkuk 1:8. Compare Jeremiah 20:16). A pagan called "strongholds, the nests of tyrants." The nest was placed "on high" which means also "heaven," as it is said, Obadiah 1:4, "though thou set thy nest among the stars;" and the tower of Babel was to "reach unto heaven" Genesis 11:4; and the antichrist, whose symbol the King of Babylon is, Isaiah 14:13 says, "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God." Babylon lying in a large plain, on the sides of the Euphrates, the image of its eagle's-nest on high must be taken, not from any natural eminence, but wholly from the works of man.
Its walls, and its hanging gardens were among "the seven wonders of the world." Eye-witnesses speak of its walls, encompassing at least 100 square miles , "and as large as the land-graviat of Hesse Homberg;" those walls, 335, or 330 feet high, and 85 feet broad ; a fortified palace, nearly 7 miles in circumference; gardens, 400 Greek feet square, supporting at an artificial height arch upon arch, of "at least 75 feet," forest trees; a temple to its god, said to have been at least 600 feet high.
If we, creatures of a day, had no one above us, Nebuchadnezzars boast had been true Daniel 4:30, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the Kingdom by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?" He had built an eagle's nest, which no human arm could reach, encircled by walls which laughed its invaders to scorn, which, at that time, no skill could scale or shatter or mine. Even as one sees in a picture the vast mounds which still remain , one can hardly imagine that they were, brick upon brick, wholly the work of man.
To be delivered from the hand (grasp) of evil - that it should not be able to reach him. Evil is spoken of as a living power , which would seize him, whose grasp he would defy. It was indeed a living power, since it was the will of Almighty God, whose servant and instrument Cyrus was, to chasten Babylon, when its sins were full. Such was the counsel, what the result? The evil covetousness which he worked, brought upon him the evil, from which, in that nest built by the hard toil of his captives, he thought to deliver himself.
to his house—greedily seizing enormous wealth, not merely for himself, but for his family, to which it is destined to be fatal. The very same "evil covetousness" that was the cause of Jehoiakim's being given up to the Chaldean oppressor (Jer 22:13) shall be the cause of the Chaldean's own destruction.
set his nest on high—(Nu 24:21; Jer 49:16; Ob 4). The image is from an eagle (Job 39:27). The royal citadel is meant. The Chaldean built high towers, like the Babel founders, to "be delivered from the power of evil" (Ge 11:4).Woe! it is a general and comprehensive threat against all tyrants and oppressors. To him; every one that is guilty of the sin.
That coveteth an evil covetousness; or driveth a trade of oppression, to gain by what means soever, right or wrong. This is evil of sin, and will end in evil of trouble.
To his house; his family, which he would enrich and greaten by raising it on the ruins of oppressed innocents.
That he may set his nest on high; a proverbial speech, in allusion to birds of prey, which build their nests in the greatest heights, Ob 4. Greatness and an advanced estate gotten by rapine and prey may seem, but never can be, a security to any monarch.
On high; higher than God and justice set him.
That he may be delivered; kept secure, and out of danger from all below him.
From the power of evil, Heb. from the palm of the hand of evil, that no evil may fasten on, though it may attempt against them. Isaiah 56:11 but were still seeking and gaping after more for themselves and families, and for their own house or church; which, from the time of their apostasy, became their own house, in distinction from, and in opposition to, the house or true church of God; and of those covetous bishops, or Rome Papal, are these and the following words to Habakkuk 2:9 to be understood:
that he may set his nest on high: in allusion to birds, especially the eagle, which builds its nest in high places, that it may be secure from any that would otherwise disturb it, or take it away: so these covetous and ambitious bishops, getting great wealth and riches, and large dominions into their hands, secular power and authority, as well as ecclesiastical, set themselves up, and advanced their see and seat, not only above all other bishops, but even above the kings and princes of the earth, above all that are called gods, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and by such means endeavoured to gain their point, the main thing they had in view:
that he may be delivered from the power of evil; that they might be safe and secure against all worldly power, and be out of the jurisdiction of the princes of the earth, and in no danger of being dispossessed or crushed by them.Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)9–11. Second woe: the Chaldean’s rapacity and self-aggrandisement
9. coveteth an evil covetousness] gaineth evil gains for his house. His “house” is his family or dynasty, or, if the Chaldean represent the nation, his people.
set his nest on high] A figure from the eagle or other birds that build in inaccessible places. He sought evil gains for the purpose of fortifying his abode and making it unassailable. Numbers 24:21; Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4.
power of evil] lit. hand of evil, i.e. calamity from assailants. The “evil” is not present but eventual and possible.Verses 9-11. - § 9. The second woe: for their avarice, violence, and cunning. Verse 9. - That coveteth an evil covetousness to his house; better, gaineth evil gains for his house. The "house" is the royal family or dynasty, as in ver. 10; and the Chaldean is denounced for thinking to secure its stability and permanence by amassing godless gains. That he may set his nest on high. This is a figurative expression, denoting security as well as pride and self-confidence (comp. Numbers 24:21; Job 39:27, etc.; Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4), and denotes the various means which the Chaldeans employed to establish and secure their power (comp. Isaiah 14:14). Some see in the words an allusion to the formidable fortifications raised by Nebuchadnezzar for the protection of Babylon, and the wonderful palace erected by him as a royal residence (see Rawlinson, 'Ant. Men.,' 3:340, etc., edit. 1865). It is certain that Nebuchadnezzar and other monarchs, after successful expeditions, turned their attention to building and enriching towns, temples, and palaces (see Josephus, 'Cont. Ap.,' 1:19, 7, etc.). From the power of evil; from the hand of evil; i.e. from all calamity. Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13 there follows, altogether without introduction, the promise of the future reassembling of the people from their dispersion. Micah 2:12. "I will assemble, assemble thee all together, O Jacob; gather together, gather together the remnant of Israel; I will bring him together like the sheep of Bozrah, like a flock in the midst of their pasture: they will be noisy with men. Micah 2:13. The breaker through comes up before them; they break through, and pass along through the gate, and go out by it; and their King goes before them, and Jehovah at their head." Micah is indeed not a prophet, prophesying lies of wine and strong drink; nevertheless he also has salvation to proclaim, only not for the morally corrupt people of his own time. They will be banished out of the land; but the captivity and dispersion are not at an end. For the remnant of Israel, for the nation when sifted and refined by the judgments, the time will come when the Lord will assemble them again, miraculously multiply them, and redeem them as their King, and lead them home. The sudden and abrupt transition from threatening to promise, just as in Hosea 2:2; Hosea 6:1; Hosea 11:9, has given rise to this mistaken supposition, that Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13 contain a prophecy uttered by the lying prophets mentioned in Micah 2:10 (Abenezra, Mich., Ewald, etc.). But this supposition founders not only on the שׁארית ישׂראל, inasmuch as the gathering together of the remnant of Israel presupposes the carrying away into exile, but also on the entire contents of these verses. Micah could not possibly introduce a false prophet as speaking in the name of Jehovah, and saying, "I will gather;" such a man would at the most have said, "Jehovah will gather." Nor could he have put a true prophecy like that contained in Micah 2:12, Micah 2:13 into the mouth of such a man. For this reason, not only Hengstenberg, Caspari, and Umbreit, but even Maurer and Hitzig, have rejected this assumption; and the latter observes, among other things, quite correctly, that "the idea expressed here is one common to the true prophets (see Hosea 2:2), which Micah himself also utters in Micah 4:6." The emphasis lies upon the assembling, and hence אאסף and אקבּץ are strengthened by infinitive absolutes. But the assembling together presuppose a dispersion among the heathen, such as Micha has threatened in Micah 1:11, Micah 1:16; Micah 2:4. And the Lord will gather together all Jacob, not merely a portion, and yet only the remnant of Israel. This involves the thought, that the whole nation of the twelve tribes, or of the two kingdoms, will be reduced to a remnant by the judgment. Jacob and Israel are identical epithets applied to the whole nation, as in Micah 1:5, and the two clauses of the verse are synonymous, so that יעקב כּלּך coincides in actual fact with שׁאתית ישׂראל. The further description rests upon the fact of the leading of Israel out of Egypt, which is to be renewed in all that is essential at a future time. The following clauses also predict the miraculous multiplication of the remnant of Israel (see Hosea 2:1-2; Jeremiah 31:10), as experienced by the people in the olden time under the oppression of Egypt (Exodus 1:12). The comparison to the flock of Bozrah presupposes that Bozrah's wealth in flocks was well known. Now, as the wealth of the Moabites in flocks of sheep is very evident from 2 Kings 3:4, many have understood by בּצרה not the Edomitish Bozrah, but the Moabitish Bostra (e.g., Hengstenberg). Others, again, take botsrâh as an appellative noun in the sense of hurdle or fold (see Hitzig, Caspari, and Dietrich in Ges. Lex. after the Chaldee). But there is not sufficient ground for either. The Bostra situated in the Hauran does not occur at all in the Old Testament, not even in Jeremiah 48:24, and the appellative meaning of the word is simply postulated for this particular passage. That the Edomites were also rich in flocks of sheep is evident from Isaiah 24:6, where the massacre which Jehovah will inflict upon Edom and Bozrah is described as a sacrificial slaughtering of lambs, he-goats, rams, and oxen; a description which presupposes the wealth of Bozrah in natural flocks. The comparison which follows, "like a flock in the midst of its pasture," belongs to the last verse, and refers to the multiplication, and to the noise made by a densely packed and numerous flock. The same tumult will be made by the assembled Israelites on account of the multitude of men. For the article in הדּברו, which is already determined by the suffix, see at Joshua 7:21. In Joshua 7:13 the redemption of Israel out of exile is depicted under the figure of liberation from captivity. Was Egypt a slave-house (Micah 6:4; cf. Exodus 20:2); so is exile a prison with walls and gates, which must be broken through. הפּריץ, the breaker through, who goes before them, is not Jehovah, but, as the counterpart of Moses the leader of Israel out of Egypt, the captain appointed by God for His people, answering to the head which they are said to choose for themselves in Hosea 2:2, a second Moses, viz., Zerubbabel, and in the highest sense Christ, who opens the prison-doors, and redeems the captives of Zion (vid., Isaiah 42:7). Led by him, they break through the walls, and march through the gate, and go out through it out of the prison. "The three verbs, they break through, they march through, they go out, describe in a pictorial manner progress which cannot be stopped by any human power" (Hengstenberg). Their King Jehovah goes before them at their head (the last two clauses of the verse are synonymous). Just as Jehovah went before Israel as the angel of the Lord in the pillar of cloud and fire at the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:21), so at the future redemption of the people of God will Jehovah go before them as King, and lead the procession (see Isaiah 52:12).
The fulfilment of this prophecy commenced with the gathering together of Israel to its God and King by the preaching of the gospel, and will be completed at some future time when the Lord shall redeem Israel, which is now pining in dispersion, out of the fetters of its unbelief and life of sin. We must not exclude all allusion to the deliverance of the Jewish nation out of the earthly Babylon by Cyrus; at the same time, it is only in its typical significance that this comes into consideration at all, - namely, as a preliminary stage and pledge of the redemption to be effected by Christ out of the spiritual Babylon of this world.
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