Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.
Hab 2:1-20. The Prophet, Waiting Earnestly for an Answer to His Complaints (First Chapter), Receives a Revelation, Which Is to Be Fulfilled, Not Immediately, Yet in Due Time, and Is Therefore to Be Waited for in Faith: The Chaldeans Shall Be Punished for Their Cruel Rapacity, nor Can Their False GodS Avert the Judgment of Jehovah, the Only True God.
1. stand upon … watch—that is, watch-post. The prophets often compare themselves, awaiting the revelations of Jehovah with earnest patience, to watchmen on an eminence watching with intent eye all that comes within their view (Isa 21:8, 11; Jer 6:17; Eze 3:17; 33:2, 3; compare Ps 5:3; 85:8). The "watch-post" is the withdrawal of the whole soul from earthly, and fixing it on heavenly, things. The accumulation of synonyms, "stand upon … watch … set me upon … tower … watch to see" implies persevering fixity of attention.
what he will say unto me—in answer to my complaints (Hab 1:13). Literally, "in me," God speaking, not to the prophet's outward ear, but inwardly. When we have prayed to God, we must observe what answers God gives by His word, His Spirit, and His providences.
what I shall answer when I am reproved—what answer I am to make to the reproof which I anticipate from God on account of the liberty of my expostulation with Him. Maurer translates, "What I am to answer in respect to my complaint against Jehovah" (Hab 1:12-17).
And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
2. Write the vision—which I am about to reveal to thee.
make it plain—(De 27:8). In large legible characters.
upon tables—boxwood tables covered with wax, on which national affairs were engraved with an iron pen, and then hung up in public, at the prophets' own houses, or at the temple, that those who passed might read them. Compare Lu 1:63, "writing table," that is, tablet.
that he may run that readeth it—commonly explained, "so intelligible as to be easily read by any one running past"; but then it would be, "that he that runneth may read it." The true sense is, "so legible that whoever readeth it, may run to tell all whom he can the good news of the foe's coming doom, and Judah's deliverance." Compare Da 12:4, "many shall run to and fro," namely, with the explanation of the prophecy, then unsealed; also, Re 22:17, "let him that heareth (the good news) say (to every one within his reach), Come." "Run" is equivalent to announce the divine revelation (Jer 23:21); as everyone who becomes informed of a divine message is bound to run, that is, use all despatch to make it known to others [Henderson]. Grotius, Ludovicus De Dieu, and Maurer interpret it: "Run" is not literal running, but "that he who reads it may run through it," that is, read it at once without difficulty.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
3. for—assigning the cause why it ought to be committed to writing: because its fulfilment belongs to the future.
the vision is yet for an appointed time—(Da 10:14; 11:27, 35). Though the time appointed by God for the fulfilment be yet future, it should be enough for your faith that God hath spoken it (La 3:26).
at the end it shall speak—Maurer translates, "it pants for the end." But the antithesis between, "it shall speak," and "not be silent," makes English Version the better rendering. So the Hebrew is translated in Pr 12:17. Literally, "breathe out words," "break forth as a blast."
though it tarry, wait for it—(Ge 49:18).
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
4. his soul which is lifted up—the Chaldean's [Maurer]. The unbelieving Jew's [Henderson].
is not upright in him—that is, is not accounted upright in God's sight; in antithesis to "shall live." So Heb 10:38, which with inspired authority applies the general sense to the particular case which Paul had in view, "If any man draw back (one result of being 'lifted up' with overweening arrogancy), my soul shall have no pleasure in him."
the just shall live by his faith—the Jewish nation, as opposed to the unbelieving Chaldean (compare Hab 2:5, &c.; Hab 1:6, &c.; Hab 1:13) [Maurer]. Henderson's view is that the believing Jew is meant, as opposed to the unbelieving Jew (compare Ro 1:17; Ga 3:11). The believing Jew, though God's promise tarry, will wait for it; the unbelieving "draws back," as Heb 10:38 expresses it. The sense, in Maurer's view, which accords better with the context (Hab 2:5, &c.). is: the Chaldean, though for a time seeming to prosper, yet being lifted up with haughty unbelief (Hab 1:11, 16), is not upright; that is, has no right stability of soul resting on God, to ensure permanence of prosperity; hence, though for a time executing God's judgments, he at last becomes "lifted up" so as to attribute to his own power what is the work of God, and in this sense "draws back" (Heb 10:38), becoming thereby a type of all backsliders who thereby incur God's displeasure; as the believing Jew is of all who wait for God's promises with patient faith, and so "live" (stand accepted) before God. The Hebrew accents induce Bengel to translate, "he who is just by his faith shall live." Other manuscripts read the accents as English Version, which agrees better with Hebrew syntax.
Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:
5. Yea also, because—additional reason why the Jews may look for God punishing their Chaldean foe, namely, because … he is
a proud man—rather, this clause continues the reason for the Jews expecting the punishment of the Chaldeans, "because he transgresseth by wine (a besetting sin of Babylon, compare Da 5:1-31, and Curtius [5.1]), being a proud man." Love of wine often begets a proud contempt of divine things, as in Belshazzar's case, which was the immediate cause of the fall of Babylon (Da 5:2-4, 30; compare Pr 20:1; 30:9; 31:5).
enlargeth his desire as hell—the grave, or the unseen world, which is "never full" (Pr 27:20; 30:16; Isa 5:14). The Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar were filled with an insatiable desire of conquest. Another reason for their punishment.
Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!
6. Shall not all these—the "nations" and "peoples" (Hab 2:5) "heaped unto him" by the Chaldean.
take up a parable—a derisive song. Habakkuk follows Isaiah (Isa 14:4) and Micah (Mic 2:4) in the phraseology.
against him—when dislodged from his former eminence.
Woe—The "derisive song" here begins, and continues to the end of the chapter. It is a symmetrical whole, and consists of five stanzas, the first three consisting of three verses each, the fourth of four verses, and the last of two. Each stanza has its own subject, and all except the last begin with "Woe"; and all have a closing verse introduced with "for," "because," or "but."
how long?—how long destined to retain his ill-gotten gains? But for a short time, as his fall now proves [Maurer]. "Covetousness is the greatest bane to men. For they who invade others' goods, often lose even their own" [Menander]. Calvin makes "how long?" to be the cry of those groaning under the Chaldean oppression while it still lasted: How long shall such oppression be permitted to continue? But it is plainly part of the derisive song, after the Chaldean tyranny had passed away.
ladeth himself with thick clay—namely, gold and silver dug out of the "clay," of which they are a part. The covetous man in heaping them together is only lading himself with a clay burden, as he dares not enjoy them, and is always anxious about them. Lee and Fuller translate the Hebrew as a reduplicated single noun, and not two words, "an accumulation of pledges" (De 24:10-13). The Chaldean is compared to a harsh usurer, and his ill-gotten treasures to heaps of pledges in the hands of a usurer.
Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?
7. suddenly—the answer to the question, "How long?" (Hab 2:6).
bite—often used of usury; so favoring Lee's rendering (Hab 2:6). As the Chaldean, like a usurer, oppressed others, so other nations shall, like usurers, take pledges of, that is, spoil, him.
Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.
8. the remnant of the people—Those remaining of the peoples spoiled by thee, though but a remnant, will suffice to inflict vengeance on thee.
the violence of the land … city—that is, on account of thy violent oppression of the lands and cities of the earth [Grotius] (compare Hab 2:5, 6, 12). The same phrase occurs in Hab 2:17, where the "land" and "city" are Judea and Jerusalem.
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!
9. coveteth an evil covetousness—that is, a covetousness so surpassingly evil as to be fatal to 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).
Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul.
10. Thou hast consulted shame … by cutting off many—Maurer, more literally, "Thou hast consulted shame … to destroy many," that is, in consulting (determining) to cut off many, thou hast consulted shame to thy house.
sinned against thy soul—that is, against thyself; thou art the guilty cause of thine own ruin (Pr 8:36; 20:2). They who wrong their neighbors, do much greater wrong to their own souls.
For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.
11. stone … cry out—personification. The very stones of thy palace built by rapine shall testify against thee (Lu 19:40).
the beam out of the timber—the crossbeam or main rafter connecting the timbers in the walls.
shall answer it—namely, the stone. The stone shall begin and the crossbeam continue the cry against thy rapine.
Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!
12. buildeth a town with blood—namely, Babylon rebuilt and enlarged by blood-bought spoils (compare Da 4:30).
Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?
13. is it not of the Lord of hosts—Jehovah, who has at His command all the hosts of heaven and earth, is the righteous author of Babylon's destruction. "Shall not God have His turn, when cruel rapacious men have triumphed so long, though He seem now to be still?" [Calvin].
people … labour in the … fire … weary themselves for … vanity—The Chaldeans labor at what is to be food for the fire, namely, their city and fortresses which shall be burnt. Jer 51:58 adopts the same phraseology to express the vanity of the Chaldean's labor on Babylon, as doomed to the flames.
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
14. Adapted from Isa 11:9. Here the sense is, "The Jews shall be restored and the temple rebuilt, so that God's glory in saving His people, and punishing their Chaldean foe, shall be manifested throughout the world," of which the Babylonian empire formed the greatest part; a type of the ultimate full manifestation of His glory in the final salvation of Israel and His Church, and the destruction of all their foes.
waters cover the sea—namely, the bottom of the sea; the sea-bed.
Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!
15. giveth … neighbour drink … puttest … bottle to him—literally, "skin," as the Easterns use "bottles" of skin for wine. Maurer, from a different Hebrew root, translates, "that pourest in thy wrath." English Version keeps up the metaphor better. It is not enough for thee to be "drunken" thyself, unless thou canst lead others into the same state. The thing meant is, that the Chaldean king, with his insatiable desires (a kind of intoxication), allured neighboring states into the same mad thirst for war to obtain booty, and then at last exposed them to loss and shame (compare Isa 51:17; Ob 16). An appropriate image of Babylon, which at last fell during a drunken revel (Da 5:1-31).
that thou mayest look on their nakedness!—with light, like Ham of old (Ge 9:22).
Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD'S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.
16. art filled—now that thou art fallen. "Thou art filled" indeed (though so insatiable), but it is "with shame."
shame for glory—instead of thy former glory (Ho 4:7).
drink thou also—The cup of sorrow is now in thy turn to pass to thee (Jer 25:15-17; La 4:21).
thy foreskin—expressing in Hebrew feeling the most utter contempt. So of Goliath (1Sa 17:36). It is not merely thy "nakedness," as in Hab 2:15, that shall be "uncovered," but the foreskin, the badge of thy being an uncircumcised alien from God. The same shall be done to thee, as thou didst to others, and worse.
cup … shall be turned unto thee—literally, "shall turn itself," namely, from the nations whom thou hast made to drink it. "Thou shalt drink it all, so that it may be turned as being drained" [Grotius].
shameful spewing—that is, vomiting; namely, that of the king of Babylon, compelled to disgorge the spoil he had swallowed. It expresses also the ignominious state of Babylon in its calamity (Jer 25:27). "Be drunken, spew, and fall." Less appropriately it is explained of the foe spewing in the face of the Babylonian king.
For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.
17. the violence of Lebanon—thy "violence" against "Lebanon," that is, Jerusalem (Isa 37:24; Jer 22:23; Eze 17:3, 12; for Lebanon's cedars were used in building the temple and houses of Jerusalem; and its beauty made it a fit type of the metropolis), shall fall on thine own head.
cover—that is, completely overwhelm.
the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid—Maurer explains, "the spoiling inflicted on the beasts of Lebanon (that is, on the people of Jerusalem, of which city 'Lebanon' is the type), which made them afraid (shall cover thee)." But it seems inappropriate to compare the elect people to "beasts." I therefore prefer explaining, "the spoiling of beasts," that is, such as is inflicted on beasts caught in a net, and "which makes them afraid (shall cover thee)." Thus the Babylonians are compared to wild beasts terrified at being caught suddenly in a net. In cruel rapacity they resembled wild beasts. The ancients read, "the spoiling of wild beasts shall make THEE afraid." Or else explain, "the spoiling of beasts (the Medes and Persians) which (inflicted by thee) made them afraid (shall in turn cover thyself—revert on thyself from them)." This accords better with the parallel clause, "the violence of Lebanon," that is, inflicted by thee on Lebanon. As thou didst hunt men as wild beasts, so shalt thou be hunted thyself as a wild beast, which thou resemblest in cruelty.
because of men's blood—shed by thee; repeated from Hab 2:8. But here the "land" and "city" are used of Judea and Jerusalem: not of the earth and cities generally, as in Hab 2:8.
the violence of the land, &c.—that is, inflicted on the land by thee.
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?
18. The powerlessness of the idols to save Babylon from its doom is a fitting introduction to the last stanza (Hab 2:19), which, as the former four, begins with "Woe."
teacher of lies—its priests and prophets uttering lying oracles, as if from it.
make dumb idols—Though men can "make" idols, they cannot make them speak.
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.
19. Awake—Arise to my help.
it shall teach!—rather, An exclamation of the prophet, implying an ironical question to which a negative answer must be given. What! "It teach?" Certainly not [Maurer]. Or, "It (the idol itself) shall (that is, ought to) teach you that it is deaf, and therefore no God" [Calvin]. Compare "they are their own witnesses" (Isa 44:9).
Behold—The Hebrew is nominative, "There it is" [Henderson].
it is laid over with gold … no breath … in the midst—Outside it has some splendor, within none.
But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.
20. But the Lord—Jehovah; in striking contrast with the idols.
in his holy temple—"His place" (Isa 26:21); heaven (Ps 11:4; Jon 2:7; Mic 1:2). The temple at Jerusalem is a type of it, and there God is to be worshipped. He does not lie hid under gold and silver, as the idols of Babylon, but reigns in heaven and fills heaven, and thence succors His people.
keep silence—in token of reverent submission and subjection to His judgments (Job 40:4; Ps 76:8; Zep 1:7; Zec 2:13).