Habakkuk 1
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary


Person of the Prophet. - Nothing certain is known as to the circumstances of Habakkuk's life. The name חבקּוּק, formed from חבק, to fold the hands, piel to embrace, by a repetition of the last radical with the vowel u, like נעצוּץ from נעץ, שׁערוּרה from שׁער, etc., and a reduplication of the penultimate (cf. Ewald, 157, a), signifies embracing; and as the name of a person, either one who embraces, or one who is embraced. Luther took the name in the first sense. "Habakkuk," he says, "signifies an embracer, or one who embraces another, or takes him to his arms," and interpreted it thus in a clever although not perfectly appropriate manner: "He embraces his people, and takes them to his arms, i.e., he comforts them and holds (lifts) them up, as one embraces a weeping child or person, to quiet it with the assurance that if God will it shall be better soon." The lxx wrote the name ̓αμβακούμ, taking the word as pronounced הבּקוּק, and compensating for the doubling of the ב by the liquid μ, and changing the closing ק into μ. Jerome in his translation writes the name Habacuc. In the headings to his book (Habakkuk 1:1 and Habakkuk 3:1) Habakkuk is simply described by the epithet הוּביא, as a man who held the office of a prophet. From the conclusion to the psalm in ch. 3, "To the leader in the accompaniment to my playing upon stringed instruments" (Habakkuk 3:19), we learn that he was officially qualified to take part in the liturgical singing of the temple, and therefore belonged to one of the Levitical families, who were charged with the maintenance of the temple music, and, like the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who sprang from priestly households, belonged to the tribe of Levi. This is supported by the superscription of the apocryphon of Bel and the dragon at Babel, ἑκ προφητείας Ἀμβακοὺμ υἱοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐκ τῆς φυλῆς Λευΐ́, which has been preserved in the Cod. Chisian. of the lxx from Origen's tetrapla, and has passed into the Syrio-hexaplar. version; even if this statement should not be founded upon tradition, but simply inferred from the subscription to Habakkuk 3:19. For even in that case it would prove that בּנגינותי was understood in ancient times as signifying that the prophet took part in the liturgical singing of the temple.

(Note: There is not much probability in this conjecture, however, since the lxx have not understood the subscription in this sense, but have rendered it incorrectly τοῦ νικῆσαι ἐν τῆ ὠδῆ αὐτοῦ, which has led the fathers to take the words as belonging to the psalm itself, and to understand it as relating to the songs of praise which the church would raise to God for the deliverance which it had received. Theod. Mops. explains it in this way: "He sets us higher than all the rest, so that nothing else becomes us than to continue in the songs and hymns which are due to God, because, against all human hope, He has given us the victory over our enemies." Cyril of Alex. and Theodoret give similar explanations. Even Jerome, in his rendering "et super excelsa mea deducet me victori in psalmis canentem," connects the words with the preceding sentence, and interprets them as referring to the songs of praise which "every righteous man who is worthy of the election of God" will raise at the end of the world to the great conqueror "Jesus, who was the first to conquer in the fight." With such an explanation of the words as these, it was impossible to see any intimation of the Levitical descent of the prophet in the expression בּנגינותי)

On the other hand, the rest of the legends relating to our prophet are quite worthless: viz., the circumstantial account in the apocryphal book of Bel and the Dragon of the miraculous way in which Habakkuk was transported to Daniel, who had been cast into the lions' den, which is also found in a MS of the Midrash Bereshit rabba; and also the statements contained in the writings of Ps. Doroth. and Ps. Epiph. de vitis prophet., that Habakkuk sprang from the tribe of Simeon; that he was born at Βηθζοχήρ (Sozomenus, Χαφἀρ Ζαχαρία, the talmudic כּפר דכרין), a hamlet to the north of Lydda, near to Maresha on the mountains; that when Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem, he fled to Ostrakine (on the promontory now called Ras Straki, situated in the neighbourhood of Arabia Petraea); and that he died on his native soil two years after the return of the people from Babylon, and was buried at the spot between Keila and Gabatha, where his grave was still shown in the time of Eusebius and Jerome (cf. Onomast. ed. Lars. et Parthey, pp. 128-9). For further particulars as to the apocryphal legends, see Delitzsch, De Habacuci proph. vita atque aetate commentat., ed. ii., Lps. 1842.

These legends do not even help us to fix the date of Habakkuk's life. All that can be gathered with any certainty from his own writings is that he prophesied before the arrival of the Chaldaeans in Palestine, i.e., before the victory gained by Nebuchadnezzar over Pharaoh Necho at Carchemish in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 46:2), since he announces the bringing up of this people to execute judgment upon Judah as something still in the future (Habakkuk 1:5.). Opinions are divided as to the precise date at which he lived. Leaving out of sight the opinions of those who deny the supernatural character of prophecy, and therefore maintain that the prophet did not prophesy till the Chaldaeans were coming against Jerusalem after the defeat of Necho, or had already arrived there, the only question that can arise is, whether Habakkuk 54ed and laboured in the reign of Josiah or in the closing years of Manasseh. Many have found a decisive proof that he lived in the reign of Josiah in Habakkuk 1:5, viz., in the fact that the prophet there foretells the Chaldaean judgment as a work which God will perform during the lifetime of the persons to whom his words are addressed ("in your days"); and they have inferred from this that we must not at any rate go beyond Josiah's reign, because the prophet is not speaking to the children, but to the adults, i.e., to those who have reached the age of manhood. But the measure of time by which to interpret בּימיכם cannot be obtained either from Joel 1:2, where the days of the persons addressed are distinguished from the days of the fathers and grandchildren, or from Jeremiah 16:9 and Ezekiel 12:25; but this expression is quite a relative one, especially in prophetic addresses, and may embrace either a few years only, or a complete lifetime, and even more. Now, as there were only thirty-eight years between the death of Manasseh and the first invasion of the Chaldaeans, the Chaldaean judgment might very well be announced during the last years of that king to the then existing generation as one that would happen in their days. We are precluded from placing the announcement in the time immediately preceding the appearance of the Chaldaeans in Hither Asia, say in the first years of Jehoiakim or the closing years of Josiah's reign, by the fact that Habakkuk represents this work of God as an incredible one: "Ye would not believe it, if it were told you" (Habakkuk 1:5). Moreover, it is expressly related in 2 Kings 21:10-16 and 2 Chronicles 33:10, that in the time of Manasseh Jehovah caused His prophets to announce the coming of such a calamity, "that both ears of all who heard it would tingle" - namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and rejection of Judah. In all probability, one of these prophets was Habakkuk, who was the first of all the prophets known to us to announce this horrible judgment. Zephaniah and Jeremiah both appeared with the announcement of the same judgment in the reign of Josiah, and both took notice of Habakkuk in their threatenings. Thus Zephaniah quite as certainly borrowed the words הס מפּני אדני יהוה in Zephaniah 1:7 from Habakkuk 2:20, as Zechariah did the words הס כּל־בּשׂר מפּני יהוה in Zechariah 2:1-13 :17; and Jeremiah formed the expressions קלּוּ מנּשׁרים סוּסיו in Jeremiah 4:13 and זאב ערבות in Jeremiah 5:6 on the basis of קלּוּ מנּמרים סוּסיו וחדּוּ מזּאבי ערב in Habakkuk 1:8, not to mention other passages of Jeremiah that have the ring of our prophet, which Delitzsch has collected in his Der Proph. Hab. ausgelegt (p. xii.). This decidedly upsets the theory that Habakkuk did not begin to prophesy till the reign of Jehoiakim; although, as such resemblances and allusions do not preclude the contemporaneous ministry of the prophets, there still remains the possibility that Habakkuk may not have prophesied till the time of Josiah, and indeed not before the twelfth year of Josiah's reign, when he commenced the extermination of idolatry and the restoration of the worship of Jehovah, since Habakkuk's prayer, which was intended according to the subscription for use in the temple, presupposes the restoration of the Jehovah-worship with the liturgical service of song.

But the possibility is not yet raised into a certainty by these circumstances. Manasseh also caused the idols to be cleared away from the temple after his return from imprisonment in Babylon, and not only restored the altar of Jehovah, and ordered praise-offerings and thank-offerings to be presented upon it, but commanded the people to serve Jehovah the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:15-16). Consequently Habakkuk might have composed his psalm at that time for use in the temple service. And this conjecture as to its age acquires extreme probability when we look carefully at the contents and form of the prophecy. Apart from the rather more distinct and special description of the wild, warlike, and predatory nature of the Chaldaeans, the contents retain throughout an ideal character, without any allusion to particular historical relations, such as we find for example in great abundance in Jeremiah, who prophesied in the thirteenth year of Josiah, and which are not altogether wanting in Zephaniah, notwithstanding the comprehensive character of his prophecy. If we look at the form, Habakkuk's prophecy still bears completely the antique stamp of the earlier prophetic literature. "His language," to use the words of Delitzsch, "is classical throughout, full of rare and select words and turns, which are to some extent exclusively his own, whilst his view and mode of presentation bear the seal of independent force and finished beauty. Notwithstanding the violent rush and lofty soaring of the thoughts, his prophecy forms a finely organized and artistically rounded whole. Like Isaiah, he is, comparatively speaking, much more independent of his predecessors, both in contents and form, than any other of the prophets. Everything reflects the time when prophecy was in its greatest glory, when the place of the sacred lyrics, in which the religious life of the church had hitherto expressed itself, was occupied, through a still mightier interposition on the part of God, by prophetic poetry with its trumpet voice, to reawaken in the church, now spiritually dead, the consciousness of God which had so utterly disappeared." On the other hand, the turning-point came as early as Zechariah, and from that time forwards the poetic swing of the prophetic addresses declines and gradually disappears, the dependence upon the earlier predecessors becomes more predominant; and even with such thoroughly original natures as Ezekiel and Zechariah, their style of composition cannot rise very far above simple prose.

2. The Book of Habakkuk contains neither a collection of oracles, nor the condensation into one discourse of the essential contents of several prophetic addresses, but one single prophecy arranged in two parts. In the first part (ch. 1 and 2), under the form of a conversation between God and the prophet, we have first of all an announcement of the judgment which God is about to bring upon the degenerate covenant nation through the medium of the Chaldaeans; and secondly, an announcement of the overthrow of the Chaldaean, who has lifted himself up even to the deification of his own power. To this there is appended in ch. 3, as a second part, the prophet's prayer for the fulfilment of the judgment; and an exalted lyric psalm, in which Habakkuk depicts the coming of the Lord in the terrible glory of the Almighty, at whose wrath the universe is terrified, to destroy the wicked and save His people and His anointed, and gives utterance to the feelings which the judgment of God will awaken in the hearts of the righteous. The whole of the prophecy has an ideal and universal stamp. Not even Judah and Jerusalem are mentioned, and the Chaldaeans who are mentioned by name are simply introduced as the existing possessors of the imperial power of the world, which was bent upon the destruction of the kingdom of God, or as the sinners who swallow up the righteous man. The announcement of judgment is simply a detailed expansion of the thought that the unjust man and the sinner perish, whilst the just will live through his faith (Habakkuk 2:4). This prophecy hastens on towards its fulfilment, and even though it should tarry, will assuredly take place at the appointed time (Habakkuk 2:2-3). Through the judgment upon the godless ones in Judah and upon the Chaldaeans, the righteousness of the holy God will be manifested, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14). Although the fact that the Chaldaeans are mentioned by name leaves no doubt whatever that the judgment will burst upon Judah through this wild conquering people, the prophecy rises immediately from this particular judgment to a view of the universal judgment upon all nations, yea, upon the whole of the ungodly world, to proclaim their destruction and the dawning of salvation for the people of the Lord and the Lord's anointed; so that the trembling at the terrors of judgment is resolved at the close into joy and exultation in the God of salvation. There can be no doubt as to the unity of the book; and the attempt to interpret the threat of judgment in ch. 2 by applying it to particular historical persons and facts, has utterly failed.

For the exegetical works on Habakkuk, see my Einleitung in das alte Testament, 302-3.

Judgment upon the Wicked - Habakkuk 1 and 2

Chastisement of Judah through the Chaldaeans - Habakkuk 1

The lamentation of the prophet over the dominion of wickedness and violence (Habakkuk 1:2-4) is answered thus by the Lord: He will raise up the Chaldaeans, who are to execute the judgment, as a terrible, world-conquering people, but who will offend by making their might into their god (Habakkuk 1:5-11); whereupon the prophet, trusting in the Lord, who has proved Himself to His people from time immemorial to be a holy and righteous God, expresses the hope that this chastisement will not lead to death, and addresses the question to God, whether with His holiness He can look calmly upon the wickedness of this people, in gathering men into their net like fishes, and continuing in the most unsparing manner to slay the nations (Habakkuk 1:12-17).

The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
Habakkuk 1:1 contains the heading not only to ch. 1 and 2, but to the whole book, of which ch. 3 forms an integral part. On the special heading in Habakkuk 3:1, see the comm. on that verse. The prophet calls his writing a massâ', or burden (see at Nahum 1:1), because it announces heavy judgments upon the covenant nation and the imperial power.

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!
The 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.

Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
"Look ye among the nations, and see, and be amazed, amazed! for I work a work in your days: ye would not believe it if it were told you." The appeal to see and be amazed is addressed to the prophet and the people of Judah together. It is very evident from Habakkuk 1:6 that Jehovah Himself is speaking here, and points by anticipation to the terrible nature of the approaching work of His punitive righteousness, although פּעל is written indefinitely, without any pronoun attached. Moreover, as Delitzsch and Hitzig observe, the meaning of the appeal is not, "Look round among the nations, whether any such judgment has ever occurred;" but, "Look about among the nations, for it is thence that the terrible storm will burst that is about to come upon you" (cf. Jeremiah 25:32; Jeremiah 13:20). The first and ordinary view, in support of which Lamentations 1:12; Jeremiah 2:10 and Jeremiah 18:13, are generally adduced, is precluded by the fact, (1) that it is not stated for what they are to look round, namely, whether anything of the kind has occurred here or there (Jeremiah 2:10); (2) that the unparalleled occurrence has not been mentioned at all yet; and (3) that what they are to be astonished or terrified at is not their failure to discover an analogy, but the approaching judgment itself. The combination of the kal, tâmâh, with the hiphil of the same verb serves to strengthen it, so as to express the highest degree of amazement (cf. Zephaniah 2:1; Psalm 18:11, and Ewald, 313, c). כּי, for, introduces the reason not only for the amazement, but also for the summons to look round. The two clauses of the second hemistich correspond to the two clauses of the first half of the verse. They are to look round, because Jehovah is about to perform a work; they are to be amazed, or terrified, because this work is an amazing or a terrible one. The participle פּעל denotes that which is immediately at hand, and is used absolutely, without a pronoun. According to Habakkuk 1:6, אני is the pronoun we have to supply. For it is not practicable to supply הוּא, or to take the participle in the sense of the third person, since God, when speaking to the people, cannot speak of Himself in the third person, and even in that case יהוה could not be omitted. Hitzig's idea is still more untenable, namely, that pō‛al is the subject, and that pō‛ēl is used in an intransitive sense: the work produces its effect. We must assume, as Delitzsch does, that there is a proleptical elipsis, i.e., one in which the word immediately following is omitted (as in Isaiah 48:11; Zechariah 9:17). The admissibility of this assumption is justified by the fact that there are other cases in which the participle is used and the pronoun omitted; and that not merely the pronoun of the third person (e.g., Isaiah 2:11; Jeremiah 38:23), but that of the second person also (1 Samuel 2:24; 1 Samuel 6:3, and Psalm 7:10). On the expression בּימיכם (in your days), see the Introduction. לא תאמינוּ, ye would not believe it if it were told you, namely, as having occurred in another place of at another time, if ye did not see it yourselves (Delitzsch and Hitzig). Compare Acts 13:41, where the Apostle Paul threatens the despisers of the gospel with judgment in the words of our verse.

For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.
Announcement of this work. - Habakkuk 1:6. "For, behold, I cause the Chaldaeans to rise up, the fierce and vehement nation, which marches along the breadths of the earth, to take possession of dwelling-places that are not its own. Habakkuk 1:7. It is alarming and fearful: its right and its eminence go forth from it. Habakkuk 1:8. And its horses are swifter than leopards, and more sudden than evening wolves: and its horsemen spring along; and its horsemen, they come from afar; they fly hither, hastening like an eagle to devour. Habakkuk 1:9. It comes all at once for wickedness; the endeavour of their faces is directed forwards, and it gathers prisoners together like sand. Habakkuk 1:10. And it, kings it scoffs at, and princes are laughter to it; it laughs at every stronghold, and heaps up sand, and takes it. Habakkuk 1:11. Then it passes along, a wind, and comes hither and offends: this its strength is its god." הנני מקים, ecce suscitaturus sum. הנּה before the participle always refers to the future. הקים, to cause to stand up or appear, does not apply to the elevation of the Chaldaeans into a nation or a conquering people, - for the picture which follows and is defined by the article הגּויו וגו presupposes that it already exists as a conquering people, - but to its being raised up against Judah, so that it is equivalent to מקים עליכם in Amos 6:14 (cf. Micah 5:4; 2 Samuel 12:11, etc.). Hakkasdı̄m, the Chaldaeans, sprang, according to Genesis 22:22, from Kesed the son of Nahor, the brother of Abraham; so that they were a Semitic race. They dwelt from time immemorial in Babylonia or Mesopotamia, and are called a primeval people, gōI mē‛ōlâm, in Jeremiah 5:15. Abram migrated to Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees, from the other side of the river (Euphrates: Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31, compared with Joshua 24:2); and the Kasdı̄m in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are inhabitants of Babel or Babylonia (Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 48:14, Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 32:4, Jeremiah 32:24, etc.; Ezekiel 23:23). Babylonia is called 'erets Kasdı̄m (Jeremiah 24:5; Jeremiah 25:12; Ezekiel 12:13), or simply Kasdı̄m (Jeremiah 50:10; Jeremiah 51:24, Jeremiah 51:35; Ezekiel 26:29; Ezekiel 23:16). The modern hypothesis, that the Chaldaeans were first of all transplanted by the Assyrians from the northern border mountains of Armenia, Media, and Assyria to Babylonia, and that having settled there, they afterwards grew into a cultivated people, and as a conquering nation exerted great influence in the history of the world, simply rests upon a most precarious interpretation of an obscure passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 23:18), and has no higher value than the opinion of the latest Assyriologists that the Chaldaeans are a people of Tatar origin, who mingled with the Shemites of the countries bordering upon the Euphrates and Tigris (see Delitzsch on Isaiah 23:13). Habakkuk describes this people as mar, bitter, or rough, and, when used to denote a disposition, fierce (mar nephesh, Judges 18:25; 2 Samuel 17:8); and nimhâr, heedless or rash (Isaiah 32:4), here violent, and as moving along the breadths of the earth (ἑπὶ τὰ πλάτη τῆς γῆς, lxx: cf. Revelation 20:9), i.e., marching through the whole extent of the earth (Isaiah 8:8): terram quam late patet (Ros.). ל is not used here to denote the direction or the goal, but the space, as in Genesis 13:17 (Hitzig, Delitzsch). To take possession of dwelling-laces that are not his own (לא־לו equals אשׁר לא־לו), i.e., to take possession of foreign lands that do not belong to him. In Habakkuk 1:7 the fierce disposition of this people is still further depicted, and in Habakkuk 1:8 the violence with which it advances. אים, formidabilis, exciting terror; נורא, metuendus, creating alarm. ממּנּוּ וגו, from it, not from God (cf. Psalm 17:2), does its right proceed, i.e., it determines right, and the rule of its conduct, according to its own standard; and שׂאתו, its eminence (Genesis 49:3; Hosea 13:1), "its δόξα (1 Corinthians 11:7) above all other nations" (Hitzig), making itself lord through the might of its arms. Its horses are lighter, i.e., swifter of foot, than panthers, which spring with the greatest rapidity upon their prey (for proofs of the swiftness of the panther, see Bochart, Hieroz. ii. p. 104, ed. Ros.), and חדּוּ, lit., sharper, i.e., shooting sharply upon it. As qâlal represents swiftness as a light rapid movement, which hardly touches the ground, so châda, ὀξὺν εἶναι, describes it as a hasty precipitate dash upon a certain object (Delitzsch). The first clause of this verse has been repeated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:13), with the alteration of one letter (viz., מנּשׁרים for מנּמרים). Wolves of the evening (cf. Zephaniah 3:3) are wolves which go out in the evening in search of prey, after having fasted through the day, not "wolves of Arabia (ערב equals ערב, lxx) or of the desert" (ערבה Kimchi).

Pâshū from pūsh, after the Arabic fâš, med. Ye, to strut proudly; when used of a horse and its rider, to spring along, to gallop; or of a calf, to hop or jump (Jeremiah 50:11; Malachi 4:2). The connection between this and pūsh (Nahum 3:18), niphal to disperse or scatter one's self, is questionable. Delitzsch (on Job 35:15) derives pūsh in this verse and the passage cited from Arab. fâš, med. Vav, in the sense of swimming upon the top, and apparently traces pūsh in Nahum 3, as well as pash in Job 35:15, to Arab. fšš (when used of water: to overflow its dam); whilst Freytag (in the Lexicon) gives, as the meaning of Arab. fšš II, dissolvit, dissipavit. Pârâshı̄m are horsemen, not riding-horses. The repetition of פּרשׁיו does not warrant our erasing the words וּפשׁוּ פּרשׁיו as a gloss, as Hitzig proposes. It can be explained very simply from the fact, that in the second hemistich Habakkuk passes from the general description of the Chaldaeans to a picture of their invasion of Judah. מרחוק , from afar, i.e., from Babylonia (cf. Isaiah 39:3). Their coming from afar, and the comparison of the rushing along of the Chaldaean horsemen to the flight of an eagle, points to the threat in Deuteronomy 28:49, "Jehovah shall bring against thee a nation from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth," which is now about to be fulfilled. Jeremiah frequently uses the same comparison when speaking of the Chaldaeans, viz., in Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22, and Lamentations 4:19 (cf. 2 Samuel 1:23). The ἁπ. λεγ. מגמּה may mean a horde or crowd, after the Hebrew גם werbeH , and the Arabic jammah, or snorting, endeavouring, striving, after Arab. jmm and jâm, appetivit, in which case גמם would be connected with גמא, to swallow. But the first meaning does not suit פּניהם קדימה, whereas the second does. קדימה, not eastwards, but according to the primary meaning of קדם, to the front, forwards. Ewald renders it incorrectly: "the striving of their face is to storm, i.e., to mischief;" for qâdı̄m, the east wind, when used in the sense of storm, is a figurative expression for that which is vain and worthless (Hosea 12:2; cf. Job 15:2), but not for mischief. For ויּאסף, compare Genesis 41:49 and Zechariah 9:3; and for כּחול, like sand of the sea, Hosea 2:1. In Habakkuk 1:10 והוּא and הוּא are introduced, that the words בּמּלכים and לכל־מבצר, upon which the emphasis lies, may be placed first. It, the Chaldaean nation, scoffs at kings and princes, and every stronghold, i.e., it ridicules all the resistance that kings and princes offer to its advance, by putting forth their strength, as a perfectly fruitless attempt. Mischâq, the object of laughter. The words, it heaps up dust and takes it (the fortress), express the facility with which every fortress is conquered by it. To heap up dust: denoting the casting up an embankment for attack (2 Samuel 20:15, etc.). The feminine suffix attached to ילכּדהּ refers ad sensum to the idea of a city (עיר), implied in מבצר, the latter being equivalent to עיר מבצר in 1 Samuel 6:18; 2 Kings 3:19, etc. Thus will the Chaldaean continue incessantly to overthrow kings and conquer kingdoms with tempestuous rapidity, till he offends, by deifying his own power. With this gentle hint at the termination of his tyranny, the announcement of the judgment closes in Habakkuk 1:11. אז, there, i.e., in this appearance of his, as depicted in Habakkuk 1:6-10 : not "then," in which case Habakkuk 1:11 would affirm to what further enterprises the Chaldaeans would proceed after their rapidly and easily effected conquests. The perfects חלף and ויּעבור are used prophetically, representing the future as occurring already. חלף and עבר are used synonymously: to pass along and go further, used of the wind or tempest, as in Isaiah 21:1; here, as in Isaiah 8:8, of the hostile army overflowing the land; with this difference, however, that in Isaiah it is thought of as a stream of water, whereas here it is thought of as a tempest sweeping over the land. The subject to châlaph is not rūăch, but the Chaldaean (הוּא, Habakkuk 1:10); and rūăch is used appositionally, to denote the manner in which it passes along, viz., "like a tempestuous wind" (rūăch as in Job 30:15; Isaiah 7:2). ואשׁם is not a participle, but a perfect with Vav rel., expressing the consequence, "and so he offends." In what way is stated in the last clause, in which זוּ does not answer to the relative אשׁר, in the sense of "he whose power," but is placed demonstratively before the noun כּחו, like זה in Exodus 32:1; Joshua 9:12-13, and Isaiah 23:13 (cf. Ewald, 293, b), pointing back to the strength of the Chaldaean, which has been previously depicted in its intensive and extensive greatness (Delitzsch). This its power is god to it, i.e., it makes it into its god (for the thought, compare Job 12:6, and the words of the Assyrian in Isaiah 10:13). The ordinary explanation of the first hemistich is, on the other hand, untenable (then its courage becomes young again, or grows), since רוּח cannot stand for רוּחו, and עבר without an object given in the context cannot mean to overstep, i.e., to go beyond the proper measure.

They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.
They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.
Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.
On this threatening announcement of the judgment by God, the prophet turns to the Lord in the name of believing Israel, and expresses the confident hope that He as the Holy One will not suffer His people to perish. Habakkuk 1:12. "Art Thou not from olden time, O Jehovah, my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. Jehovah, for judgment hast Thou appointed it; and, O Rock, founded it for chastisement." However terrible and prostrating the divine threatening may sound, the prophet draws consolation and hope from the holiness of the faithful covenant God, that Israel will not perish, but that the judgment will be only a severe chastisement.

(Note: "Therefore," says Calvin, "whoever desires to fight bravely with the ungodly, let him first settle the matter with God Himself, and, as it were, confirm and ratify that treaty which God has set before us, namely, that we are His people, and He will be a God to us in return. And because God makes a covenant with us in this manner, it is necessary that our faith should be well established, that we may go forth to the conflict with all the ungodly.")

The supplicatory question with which he soars to this hope of faith is closely connected with the divine and threatening prophecy in Habakkuk 1:11. The Chaldaean's god is his own strength; but Israel's God is Jehovah, the Holy One. On the interrogative form of the words ("art Thou not?"), which requires an affirmative reply, Luther has aptly observed that "he speaks to God interrogatively, asking whether He will do this and only punish; not that he has any doubt on the subject, but that he shows how faith is sustained in the midst of conflicts, - namely, that it appears as weak as if it did not believe, and would sink at once, and fall into despair on account of the great calamity which crushes it. For although faith stands firm, yet it cracks, and speaks in a very different tone when in the midst of the conflict from what it does when the victory is gained." But as the question is sure to receive an affirmative reply, the prophet draws this inference from it: "we shall not die," we Thy people shall not perish. This hope rests upon two foundations: viz., (1) from time immemorial Jehovah is Israel's God; and (2) He is the Holy One of Israel, who cannot leave wickedness unpunished either in Israel or in the foe. This leads to the further conclusion, that Jehovah has simply appointed the Chaldaean nation to execute the judgment, to chastise Israel, and not to destroy His people. The three predicates applied to God have equal weight in the question. The God to whom the prophet prays is Jehovah, the absolutely constant One, who is always the same in word and work (see at Genesis 2:4); He is also Elohai, my, i.e., Israel's, God, who from time immemorial has proved to the people whom He had chosen as His possession that He is their God; and קדשׁי, the Holy One of Israel, the absolutely Pure One, who cannot look upon evil, and therefore cannot endure that the wicked should devour the righteous (Habakkuk 1:13). לא נמוּת is not a supplicatory wish: Let us not die therefore; but a confident assertion: "We shall not die."

(Note: According to the Masora, לא נמוּת stands as תקון סופרים, i.e., correctio scribarum for לא תמוּת, thou wilt not die. These tikkune sophrim, however, of which the Masora reckons eighteen, are not alterations of original readings proposed by the sophrim, but simply traditional definitions of what the sacred writers originally intended to write, though they afterwards avoided it or gave a different turn. Thus the prophet intended to write here: "Thou (God) wilt not die;" but in the consciousness that this was at variance with the divine decorum, he gave it this turn, "We shall not die." But this rabbinical conjecture rests upon the erroneous assumption that מקּדם is a predicate, and the thought of the question is this: "Thou art from of old, Thou Jehovah my God, my Holy One," according to which לא תמוּת would be an exegesis of מקּדם, which is evidently false. For further remarks on the tikkune sophrim, see Delitzsch's Commentary on Hab. l.c., and the Appendix. p. 206ff.)

In the second half of the verse, Yehōvâh and tsūr (rock) are vocatives. Tsūr, as an epithet applied to God, is taken from Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, and Deuteronomy 32:37, where God is first called the Rock of Israel, as the unchangeable refuge of His people's trust. Lammishpât, i.e., to accomplish the judgment: comp. Isaiah 10:5-6, where Asshur is called the rod of Jehovah's wrath. In the parallel clause we have להוכיח instead: "to chastise," namely Israel, not the Chaldaeans, as Ewald supposes.

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
The believing confidence expressed in this verse does not appear to be borne out by what is actually done by God. The prophet proceeds to lay this enigma before God in Habakkuk 1:13-17, and to pray for his people to be spared during the period of the Chaldaean affliction. Habakkuk 1:13. "Art Thou too pure of eye to behold evil, and canst Thou not look upon distress? Wherefore lookest Thou upon the treacherous? and art silent when the wicked devours one more righteous than he? Habakkuk 1:14. And Thou hast made men like fishes of the sea, like reptiles that have no ruler. Habakkuk 1:15. All of them hath he lifted up with the hook; he draws them into his net, and gathers them in his fishing net; he rejoices thereat, and is glad. Habakkuk 1:16. Therefore he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense to his landing net; for through them is his portion rich, and his food fat. Habakkuk 1:17. Shall he therefore empty his net, and always strangle nations without sparing?" In Habakkuk 1:13, טהור עינים, with the two clauses dependent upon it, stands as a vocative, and טהור followed by מן as a comparative: purer of eyes than to be able to see. This epithet is applied to God as the pure One, whose eyes cannot bear what is morally unclean, i.e., cannot look upon evil. The purity of God is not measured here by His seeing evil, but is described as exalted above it, and not coming at all into comparison with it. On the relation in which these words stand to Numbers 23:21, see the remarks on Habakkuk 1:3. In the second clause the infinitive construction passes over into the finite verb, as is frequently the case; so that אשׁר must be supplied in thought: who canst not look upon, i.e., canst not tolerate, the distress which the wicked man prepares for others. Wherefore then lookest Thou upon treacherous ones, namely, the Chaldaeans? They are called בּוגדים, from their faithlessly deceptive and unscrupulously rapacious conduct, as in Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16. That the seeing is a quiet observance, without interposing to punish, is evident from the parallel תּחרישׁ: Thou art silent at the swallowing of the צדיק ממּנּוּ. The more righteous than he (the ungodly one) is not the nation of Israel as such, which, if not perfectly righteous, was relatively more righteous than the Chaldaeans. This rabbinical view is proved to be erroneous, by the fact that in Habakkuk 1:2 and Habakkuk 1:3 the prophet describes the moral depravity of Israel in the same words as those which he here applies to the conduct of the Chaldaeans. The persons intended are rather the godly portion of Israel, who have to share in the expiation of the sins of the ungodly, and suffer when they are punished (Delitzsch). This fact, that the righteous is swallowed along with the unrighteous, appears irreconcilable with the holiness of God, and suggests the inquiry, how God can possibly let this be done.

This strange fact is depicted still further in Habakkuk 1:14-16 in figures taken from the life of a fisherman. The men are like fishes, whom the Chaldaean collects together in his net, and then pays divine honour to his net, by which he has been so enriched. ותּעשׂה is not dependent upon למּה, but continues the address in a simple picture, in which the imperfect with Vav convers. represents the act as the natural consequence of the silence of God: "and so Thou makest the men like fishes," etc. The point of comparison lies in the relative clause לא־משׁל בּו, "which has no ruler," which is indeed formally attached to כּרמשׂ alone, but in actual fact belongs to דּגי היּם also. "No ruler," to take the defenceless under his protection, and shelter and defend them against enemies. Then will Judah be taken prisoner and swallowed up by the Chaldaeans. God has given it helplessly up to the power of its foes, and has obviously ceased to be its king. Compare the similar lamentation in Isaiah 63:19 : "are even like those over whom Thou hast never ruled." רמשׂ, the creeping thing, the smaller animals which exist in great multitudes, and move with great swiftness, refers here to the smaller water animals, to which the word remes is also applied in Psalm 104:25, and the verb râmas in Genesis 1:21 and Leviticus 11:46. כּלּה, pointing back to the collective 'âdâm, is the object, and is written first for the sake of emphasis. The form העלה, instead of העלה, is analogous to the hophal העלה in Nahum 2:8 and Judges 6:28, and also to העברתּ in Joshua 7:7 : to take up out of the water (see Ges. 63, Anm. 4). יגרהוּ from גרר, to pull, to draw together. Chakkâh is the hook, cherem the net generally, mikhmereth the large fishing-net (σαγήνη), the lower part of which, when sunk, touches the bottom, whilst the upper part floats on the top of the water. These figures are not to be interpreted with such specialty as that the net and fishing net answer to the sword and bow; but the hook, the net, and the fishing net, as the things used for catching fish, refer to all the means which the Chaldaeans employ in order to subdue and destroy the nations. Luther interprets it correctly. "These hooks, nets, and fishing nets," he says, "are nothing more than his great and powerful armies, by which he gained dominion over all lands and people, and brought home to Babylon the goods, jewels, silver, and gold, interest and rent of all the world." He rejoices over the success of his enterprises, over this capture of men, and sacrifices and burns incense to his net, i.e., he attributes to the means which he has employed the honour due to God. There is no allusion in these words to the custom of the Scythians and Sauromatians, who are said by Herodotus (iv. 59, 60) to have offered sacrifices every year to a sabre, which was set up as a symbol of Mars. What the Chaldaean made into his god, is expressed in Habakkuk 1:11, namely, his own power. "He who boasts of a thing, and is glad and joyous on account of it, but does not thank the true God, makes himself into an idol, gives himself the glory, and does not rejoice in God, but in his own strength and work" (Luther). The Chaldaean sacrifices to his net, for thereby (בּהמּה, by net and yarn) his portion (chelqō) is fat, i.e., the portion of this booty which falls to him, and fat is his food ( בּראה is a neuter substantive). The meaning is, that he thereby attains to wealth and prosperity. In Habakkuk 1:17 there is appended to this the question embracing the thought: Shall he therefore, because he rejoices over his rich booty, or offers sacrifice to his net, empty his net, sc. to throw it in afresh, and proceed continually to destroy nations in so unsparing a manner? In the last clause the figure passes over into a literal address. The place of the imperfect is now taken by a periphrastic construction with the infinitive: Shall he constantly be about to slay? On this construction, see Ges. 132, 3, Anm. 1, and Ewald, 237, c. לא יחמול is a subordinate clause appended in an adverbial sense: unsparingly, without sparing.

And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?
They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.
Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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