Habakkuk 3:14
Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) Thou dost strike through with his staves . . .—Better, Thou dost pierce with his (scil., thine anointed people’s) spears the head of his (the enemy’s) princes, when they sweep by to scatter me abroad, when they exult as if to devour the afflicted secretly. The first clause is very obscure. Matteh means not only “spear,” but also “rod,” “stem,” “tribe” (see on Habakkuk 3:9); and the word which we translate “princes” may also, perhaps, mean “villages.” (See on Judges 5:7.) It is also uncertain to whom the possessive pronouns attached to these substantives refer the last clause we are reminded of several passages in the Psalms, notably, Psalm 10:9; Psalm 14:4; Psalm 17:12.

3:3-15 God's people, when in distress, and ready to despair, seek help by considering the days of old, and the years of ancient times, and by pleading them with God in prayer. The resemblance between the Babylonish and Egyptian captivities, naturally presents itself to the mind, as well as the possibility of a like deliverance through the power of Jehovah. God appeared in his glory. All the powers of nature are shaken, and the course of nature changed, but all is for the salvation of God's own people. Even what seems least likely, shall be made to work for their salvation. Hereby is given a type and figure of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. It is for salvation with thine anointed. Joshua who led the armies of Israel, was a figure of Him whose name he bare, even Jesus, our Joshua. In all the salvations wrought for them, God looked upon Christ the Anointed, and brought deliverances to pass by him. All the wonders done for Israel of old, were nothing to that which was done when the Son of God suffered on the cross for the sins of his people. How glorious his resurrection and ascension! And how much more glorious will be his second coming, to put an end to all that opposes him, and all that causes suffering to his people!Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages - The destruction comes not upon himself only, but upon the whole multitude of his subjects; and this not by any mere act of divine might, but "with his own staves," turning upon him the destruction which he prepared for others. So it often was of old. When the Midianites and Amalekites and the children of the east Judges 6:3-4 wasted Israel in the days of Gideon "the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host" Judges 7:22; and when God delivered the Philistines into the hand of Jonathan 1 Samuel 14:12, 1 Samuel 14:16, 1 Samuel 14:20 so it was with "Ammon Moab and the inhabitants of Mount Seir," at the prayer of Jehoshaphat and his army 2 Chronicles 20:22-23. And so it shall be, God says, at the end, of the army of God; "every man's sword shall be against his brother," Ezekiel 38:21. and Isaiah says, Isaiah 9:20, "every man shall eat the flesh of his own arm," and Zechariah Zechariah 14:13, "a great tumult from the Lord shall be among them; and they shall lay every man hold on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor."

So Pharaoh drove Israel to the shore of the sea, in which he himself perished; Daniel's accusers perished in the den of lions, from which Daniel was delivered unharmed; Daniel 6:24. and so Haman was hanged on the gallows which he prepared for Mordecai Esther 7:10. So it became a saying of Psalmists (Psalm 7:5, add Psalm 9:15; Psalm 10:2; Psalm 35:8; Psalm 57:6; Psalm 94:23; Psalm 141:10; Proverbs 5:22; Proverbs 26:27; Ecclesiastes 10:8.) "He made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made; his mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate:" and this from above, sent down by God. The pagan too observed that there was "no juster law than that artificers of death by their own art should perish." This too befell him, when he seemed to have all but gained his end. "They came (out) as a whirlwind to scatter me," with whirlwind force, to drive them asunder to all the quarters of the heavens, as the wind scatters the particles of Job 37:11. cloud, or (Jeremiah 13:24, add Jeremiah 18:17; Isaiah 41:16, Delitzsch) "as the stubble which passeth away by the wind of the wilderness." Pharaoh at the Red Sea or Sennacherib, sweep all before them. Pharaoh said Exodus 15:9. "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them."

Their rejoicing - It is no longer one enemy. The malice of the members was concentrated in the head; the hatred concentrated in him was diffused in them. The readiness of instruments of evil to fulfill evil is an incentive to those who conceive it; those who seem to ride the wave are but carried on upon the crest of the surge which they first roused. They cannot check themselves or it. So the ambitious conceiver of mischief has his own guilt; the willing instruments of evil have theirs. Neither could be fully evil without the other. Sennacherib had been nothing without those fierce warriors who are pictured on the monuments, with individual fierceness fulfilling his will, nor the Huns without Attila, or Attila without his hordes whose tempers he embodied. Satan would be powerless but for the willing instruments whom he uses. So then Holy Scripture sometimes passes from the mention of the evil multitude to that of the one head, on earth or in hell, who impels them; or from the one evil head who has his own special responsibility in originating it, to the evil multitude, whose responsibility and guilt lies in fomenting the evil which they execute.

Their rejoicing - He does not say simply "they rejoice to," but herein is their exceeding, exulting joy. The wise of this earth glories in his wisdom, the mighty man in his might, the rich in his riches: the truly wise, that he understandeth and knoweth God. But as for these, their exultation is concentrated in this, savagery; in this is their jubilation; this is their passion. Psalmists and pious people use the word to express their exulting joy in God: people must have an object for their empassioned souls; and these, in cruelty.

As it were to devour the poor secretly - From the general he descends again to the individual, but so as now to set forth the guilt of each individual in that stormy multitude which is, as it were, one in its evil unity, when each merges his responsibility, as it were, in that of the body, the horde or the mob, in which he acts. Their exultation, he says, is that of the individual robber trod murderer, who lies wait secretly in his ambush, to spring on the defenseless wanderer, to slay him and devour his substance. Premeditation, passion, lust of cruelty, cowardice, murderousness, habitual individual savagery and treachery, and that to the innocent and defenseless, are all concentrated in the words, "their exultation is, as it were, to devour the poor secretly," i. e. "in their secret haunt."

Pharaoh had triumphed over Israel. "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in" Exodus 14:3. He rejoiceth in having them wholly in his power, as a lion has his prey in his lair, in secret, unknown to the Eyes of God whom he regarded not, with none to behold, none to deliver. Dion.: "They gloried in oppressing the people of Israel, even as the cruel man glories in secretly rending and afflicting the needy, when without fear they do this cruelty, nor heed God beholding all as Judge. The invisible enemies too rejoice very greatly in the ruin of our souls "Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him: for if I be cast down, they that trouble me will rejoice at it Psalm 13:4. "O Lord and governor of all my life, leave me not to their counsels and let me not fall by them" (Ecclesiasticus 23:1). Yet God left them not in his hands; but even "brake the head of Leviathan in pieces."

14. strike … with his staves—with the "wicked" (Hab 3:13) foe's own sword (Maurer translates, "spears") (Jud 7:22).

head of his villages—Not only kings were overthrown by God's hand, but His vengeance passed through the foe's villages and dependencies. A just retribution, as the foe had made "the inhabitants of Israel's villages to cease" (Jud 5:7). Grotius translates, "of his warriors"; Gesenius, "the chief of his captains."

to scatter me—Israel, with whom Habakkuk identifies himself (compare Hab 1:12).

rejoicing … to devour the poor secretly—"The poor" means the Israelites, for whom in their helpless state the foe lurks in his lair, like a wild beast, to pounce on and devour (Ps 10:9; 17:12).

Thou, O God,

didst strike through with his staves; either meant of the staves or arms of the Canaanitish kings which they lifted up against Israel, thereby provoking Israel to fight, in which being overcome, they perished by their own arms taken from them; or it may be meant of the weapons of Joshua and Israel, called staves, for that they were arrows and spears, which are armed staves: or it might be translated tribes; so with the tribes of Israel, the tribes of God’s anointed, or by them, were these Canaanites destroyed.

The head of his villages; all the cities, and all the unwalled towns; for so Israel destroyed the daughters with the mothers, i.e. the villages with the cities.

They; the inhabitants of Canaan, but particularly the five kings, Habakkuk 3:11; of whose conspiracy you read Joshua 10, which see.

Came out as a whirlwind; with violence invading every side; a tempest made up of contrary winds and exhalations, moving as violently as irregularly.

To scatter; to disperse and drive away from the earth.

Their rejoicing was as to devour; the joy they took was such as is the joy of men who take the spoil of enemies, and come to feast, not fight; they dreamed of nothing else but eating up God’s people as they would eat bread.

The poor; helpless and friendless as they seemed to be, poor Israel.

Secretly; either by secret conspiracy, or by secret execution of the plot they laid against Israel.

Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages,.... Of his warriors, mighty men, princes; so the Vulgate Latin, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions; or of his armies, as Jarchi and Kimchi; which some interpret of Pharaoh and his host, who were destroyed by the steps and methods which they themselves took, going into the sea of themselves, and so were struck through with their own staves: others of the princes and armies of the Canaanites, who destroyed one another with their own weapons of war, as the Midianites did; though we have no instance of it on record: others of Goliath, as Burkius, called before "the head out of the house of the wicked", with respect to his rise from Gath; here, "the head of his Pagans", as he renders it, or Gentiles, with respect to his preeminence over the common soldiers, and all the Philistines: others of Sennacherib and his army, as Jarchi; but Kimchi's sense is much better, who interprets it of Gog and his army; and which, if understood of the Turk, the eastern antichrist, is not amiss; and so, as the western antichrist and his destruction are pointed at in the preceding verse Habakkuk 3:13, the ruin of the other is intimated here; whose armies are expressed by a word which sometimes has the signification of villages; because he said, "I will go up to the land of unwalled villages", Ezekiel 38:11 in the land of Judea about Jerusalem, where he will distribute and quarter his soldiers; and where he and they at the head of them in these villages will be cut to pieces with their own weapons; as it is said, "every man's sword shall be against his brother", Ezekiel 38:21, Cocceius and Van Till render the words, "thou hast designed", marked out, or expressed by name, "in his tribes, the head of his villages"; and understand them, not of the enemy, but of Christ the anointed One, and his people; the Protestants, or reformed churches, who, being separated from antichrist, are represented as divided into tribes, and as dwelling in villages alone, and in separate states and kingdoms; and suppose that God has designed in his purposes and decrees some particular place, called the head or beginning of these villages, where his great and glorious work in the latter day will first appear; but what and where that place is is not said:

they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me; the prophet representing the true Israel, or the whole church of Christ: it is not unusual for mighty armies to be compared to a whirlwind coming forth with great force, suddenly and swiftly; see Jeremiah 4:13 and particularly it is said of the army of Gog or the Turk, which shall invade Judea, in order to dispossess the Jews of their land, when converted and returned to it; "thou shall ascend and come like a storm, thou shall be like a cloud, to cover the land, thou and all thy bands, and many people with thee", Ezekiel 38:9 who will think to scatter the people of the Jews again among the nations, as they have been:

their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly; the poor people of the Jews, to strip them of their substance, to carry off their gold and silver, their cattle and their goods; and which they thought they should as easily accomplish as a rich man gets the mastery over a poor man, and ruins him, that has none to help him; and that they should do this in a still, private, secret manner, so as that the Christian princes should have no knowledge of it, and come in to their assistance; and this they rejoiced at in themselves, and pleased themselves with it; see Ezekiel 38:10. The above interpreters render this clause as a prayer, "let them tremble for fear": or be filled with horror, who come "to scatter me, whose rejoicing is as to devour the poor in secret"; which is interpreted of the Papists being terrified by some Christian princes, since the Reformation, from carrying some of their designs into execution; and of the clandestine arts and secret methods the Jesuits particularly use to do injury to the interest of Christ and true religion.

Thou didst {s} strike through with his staffs the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.

(s) God destroyed his enemies both great and small with their own weapons, though they were ever so fierce against his Church.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
14. Thou didst strike through] Thou hast pierced through with thy spears the head of his warriors. The Heb. text reads his spears or staves, which would mean that the weapons of the enemy were turned against himself. But though the idea is not uncommon (Ezekiel 38:21; Zechariah 14:13; cf. 1 Samuel 14:20) that the enemies of God’s people shall be thrown into a panic and mutually destroy each other, there is nothing in the present passage to suggest that idea. The term rendered warriors with Vulgate (A.V. villages) does not occur again; Sept. princes.

They came out] which were come out as a whirlwind.

Their rejoicing was] exulting as about to devour the afflicted in secret places; lit. their exulting was as to devour. The figure is taken from the wild beast who devours his prey in his covert (Psalm 10:7-9; Psalm 17:12). The enemy exulted or raised a cry of exultation, feeling that their prey, the afflicted, that is the people Israel, was within their grasp. Comp. Exodus 14:3; Exodus 15:9, “The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my desire shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.”

Verse 14. - Thou didst strike through with his staves; thou didst pierce with his own spears. Thou dost turn on the Chaldeans and all thine enemies the destruction which they intended for others. The people meet with the same fate as the royal house (ver. 13); Vulgate, maledixisti sceptris ejus, which seems to be a mistranslation. The head of his villages (פרזים). There is a difficulty in arriving at the meaning of this last word. The LXX. renders it, "mighty men;" Jerome, "warriors;" Chaldee, "army;" Delitzsch and many modern critics, "hordes" or "inhabitants of the plain;" others again, "rulers" or "judges." The most probable version is either "warriors" or "hordes." The head, i.e. collectively the heads of his warlike troops. They came out (or, who rush) as a whirlwind to scatter me (see the description of the Chaldees, Habakkuk 1:6, etc.). The prophet identifies himself with his people. (For the figure of the whirlwind, comp. Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 13:24; Hosea 13:3.) Dr. Briggs renders, "Thou dost pierce with his rods the chief, when his rulers are rushing in to scatter me." Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly; or, as in ambush, to devoter the helpless. They exult in acting the part of robbers and murderers, who lurk for the defenceless and afflict the poor (Psalm 10:8, etc.). As is equivalent to "as it were." Vulgate, Sicut ejus qui. "The poor" are primarily the Israelites, and then all meek worshippers of God. Habakkuk 3:14In Habakkuk 3:12 there follows a description of the judgment upon the nations for the rescue of the people of God. Habakkuk 3:12. "In fury Thou walkest through the earth, in wrath Thou stampest down nations. Habakkuk 3:13. Thou goest out to the rescue of Thy people, to the rescue of Thine anointed one; Thou dashest in pieces the head from the house of the wicked one, laying bare the foundation even to the neck. Selah. Habakkuk 3:14. Thou piercest with his spears the head of his hordes, which storm hither to beat me to powder, whose rejoicing is, as it were, to swallow the poor in secret. Habakkuk 3:15. Thou treadest upon the sea: Thy horses, upon the heap of great waters." The Lord, at whose coming in the terrible glory of the majesty of the Judge of the world all nature trembles and appears to fall into its primary chaotic state, marches over the earth, and stamps or tramples down the nations with His feet (compare the kindred figure of the treader of the winepress in Isaiah 63:1-6). Not all nations, however, but only those that are hostile to Him; for He has come forth to save His people and His anointed one. The perfects in Habakkuk 3:13-15 are prophetic, describing the future in spirit as having already occurred. יצא, referring to the going out of God to fight for His people, as in Judges 5:4; 2 Samuel 5:24; Isaiah 42:13, etc. ישׁע, rescue, salvation, is construed the second time with an accusative like an inf. constr. (see Ewald, 239, a). The anointed of God is not the chosen, consecrated nation (Schnur., Ros., Hitzig, Ewald, etc.); for the nation of Israel is never called the anointed one (hammâshı̄ăch) by virtue of its calling to be "a kingdom of priests" (mamlekheth kohănı̄m, Exodus 19:6), neither in Psalm 28:8 nor in Psalm 84:10; Psalm 89:39. Even in Psalm 105:15 it is not the Israelites who are called by God "my anointed" (meshı̄chai), but the patriarchs, as princes consecrated by God (Genesis 23:6). And so here also משׁיחך is the divinely-appointed king of Israel; not, however, this or that historical king - say Josiah, Jehoiakim, or even Jehoiachin - but the Davidic king absolutely, including the Messiah, in whom the sovereignty of David is raised to an eternal duration, "just as by the Chaldaean king here and in Psalm 2:1-12 we must understand the Chaldaean kings generally" (Delitzsch), wince the prophecy spreads from the judgment upon the Chaldaeans to the universal judgment upon the nations, and the Chaldaean is merely introduced as the possessor of the imperial power. The Messiah as the Son of David is distinguished from Jehovah, and as such is the object of divine help, just as in Zechariah 9:9, where He is called נושׁע in this respect, and in the royal Messianic psalms. This help God bestows upon His people and His anointed, by dashing in pieces the head from the house of the wicked one. The râshâ‛ (wicked one) is the Chaldaean, not the nation, however, which is spoken of for the first time in Habakkuk 3:14, but the Chaldaean king, as chief of the imperial power which is hostile to the kingdom of God. But, as the following clause clearly shows, the house is the house in the literal sense, so that the "head," as part of the house, is the gable. A distinction is drawn between this and yeshōd, the foundation, and צוּאר, the neck, i.e., the central part looking from the gable downwards. The destruction takes place both from above and below at once, so that the gable and the foundation are dashed in pieces with one blow, and that even to the neck, i.e., up to the point at which the roof or gable rests upon the walls. עד, inclusive, embracing the part mentioned as the boundary; not exclusive, so as to leave the walls still rising up as ruins. The description is allegorical, the house representing the Chaldaean dynasty, the royal family including the king, but not "including the exalted Chaldaean kingdom in all its prosperity" (Hitzig). ערות, a rare form of the inf. abs., like שׁתות in Isaiah 22:13 (cf. Ewald, 240, b), from ערה, to make bare, to destroy from the very foundation, the infinitive in the sense of the gerund describing the mode of the action.

The warlike nation meets with the same fate as the royal house (Habakkuk 3:14). The meaning of the first clause of the verse depends upon the explanation to be given to the word perâzâv. There is no foundation for the meaning leaders or judges, which has been claimed for the word perâzı̄m ever since the time of Schroeder and Schnur. In Hebrew usage perâzı̄ signifies the inhabitant of the plain (Deuteronomy 3:5; 1 Samuel 6:18), and perâzōth the plains, the open flat land, as distinguished from walled cities (Ezekiel 38:11). Perâzōn has the same meaning in Judges 5:7 and Judges 5:11. Consequently Delitzsch derives perâzâv from a segholate noun perez or pērez, in the sense of the population settled upon the open country, the villagers and peasantry, whence the more general signification of a crowd or multitude of people, and here, since the context points to warriors, the meaning hordes, or hostile companies, which agrees with the Targum, Rashi, and Kimchi, who explain the word as signifying warriors or warlike troops. ראשׁ, the head of his hordes, cannot be the leader, partly because of what follows, "who come storming on," which presupposes that not the leader only, but the hordes or warriors, will be destroyed, and partly also because of the preceding verse, in which the destruction of the king is pronounced, and also because the distinction between the king and the leader of the army is at variance with the complex character of the prophetic description. We must take ראשׁ in the literal sense, but collectively, "heads." The prophet was led to the unusual figure of the piercing of the head by the reminiscence of the piercing of Sisera's head by Jael (Judges 5:26). The suffixes in בּמטּיו and פּרזו refer back to רשׁע. מטּיו, sticks, for lance or spears, after 2 Samuel 18:14. The meaning of the words is this: with the spear of the king God pierces the heads of his warlike troops; and the thought expressed is, that the hostile troops will slay one another in consequence of the confusion, as was the case in the wars described in 1 Samuel 14:20 and 2 Chronicles 20:23-24, and as, according to prophecy, the last hostile power of the world is to meet with its ruin when it shall attack the kingdom of God (Ezekiel 38:21; Zechariah 14:13). יסערוּ להף is to be taken relatively: "which storm hither (sâ‛ar, approach with the swiftness and violence of a storm) to destroy me." The prophet includes himself along with the nation, and uses hēphı̄ts with reference to the figure of the dispersion or powdering of the chaff by a stormy wind (Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 13:24; Jeremiah 18:17). עליצתם forms a substantive clause by itself: "their rejoicing is," for they who rejoice, as if to swallow, i.e., whose rejoicing is directed to this, to swallow the poor in secret. The enemies are compared to highway murderers, who lurk in dark corners for the defenceless traveller, and look forward with rejoicing for the moment when they may be able to murder him. עני forms the antithesis to רשׁע. Inasmuch as "the wicked" denotes the Chaldaean; "the poor" is the nation of Israel, i.e., the congregation of the righteous, who are really the people of God. To devour the poor, i.e., to take violent possession of his life and all that he has (cf. Proverbs 30:14, and for the fact itself, Psalm 10:8-10), is, when applied to a nation, to destroy it (vid., Deuteronomy 7:16 and Jeremiah 10:25).

In order that these enemies may be utterly destroyed, God passes through the sea. This thought in Habakkuk 3:15 connects the conclusion of the description of the judicial coming of God with what precedes. The drapery of the thought rests upon the fact of the destruction of Pharaoh and his horsemen in the Red Sea (Exodus 14). The sea, the heap of many waters, is not a figurative expression for the army of the enemy, but is to be taken literally. This is required by דּרכתּ ביּם, since דּרך with ב, to tread upon a place, or enter into it (cf. Micah 5:4; Isaiah 59:8; Deuteronomy 11:24-25), does not suit the figurative interpretation; and it is required still more by the parallel passages, viz., Psalm 77:20 (בּיּם דּרכּך), which floated before the prophet's mind, and Zechariah 10:11. Just as God went through the Red Sea in the olden time to lead Israel through, and to destroy the Egyptian army, so will He in the future go through the sea and do the same, when He goes forth to rescue His people out of the power of the Chaldaean. The prophet does not express the latter indeed, but it is implied in what he says. סוּסיך is an accusative, not instrumenti, however, but of more precise definition: thou, namely, according to thy horses; for "with thy horses," as in Psalm 83:19; Psalm 44:3 (אתּה ידך); cf. Ewald, 281, c, and 293, c. The horses are to be taken, as in Habakkuk 3:8, as harnessed to the chariots; and they are mentioned here with reference to the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, which were destroyed by Jehovah in the sea. Chōmer, in the sense of heap, as in Exodus 8:10, is not an accusative, but is still dependent upon the ב of the parallel clause. The expression "heap of many waters" serves simply to fill up the picture, as in Psalm 77:20.

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