Habakkuk 1:16
Therefore they sacrifice to their dragnet and burn incense to their fishing net, for by these things their portion is sumptuous and their food is rich.
Conceit Born of SuccessHabakkuk 1:16
Sacrificing to the NetBishop Cheney.Habakkuk 1:16
Self-ConceitJames Owen.Habakkuk 1:16
Self-WorshipJ. Guinness Rogers, D. D.Habakkuk 1:16
The Idolatry of WorkC. J. Vaughan, D. D.Habakkuk 1:16
The Pride of Human SufficiencyS.D. Hillman Habakkuk 1:16
The Worship of the NetT. Campbell Finlayson.Habakkuk 1:16
Dark Problems and Man's True Attitude in Relation to ThemS.D. Hillman Habakkuk 1:13-15, 17; 2:1-4
Rapacious Selfishness in PowerHomilistHabakkuk 1:14-17
Rapacious Selfishness in PowerD. Thomas Habakkuk 1:14-17
The Baits of SatanS. Baring-Gould, M. A.Habakkuk 1:14-17
The reference is to the Chaldeans. They would, in due course, invade Judah, and should be successful in their invasion. The "sinful nation" should fall into their hands as fish into the net of the angler; and, intoxicated by their success, they should congratulate themselves upon their achievements and adore their military prowess and skill, and their weapons of war, as though these had won the victory. "Therefore they sacrifice," etc. (ver. 16). They should be lifted up with the pride of human sufficiency. Observe -


1. Temporal success is thus gainful. The age in which we live is an age of earnest toil, of restless activity. It is becoming more and more felt that a man cannot expect to make headway apart from continuous, energetic work. And this is a healthy "sign of the times." It reminds us that life is too valuable a gift to be frittered away. It contrasts, strikingly and pleasingly, with those periods in which ease, luxury, and sloth were deified and adored. There is dignity in labour. The danger lies in the non-recognition of God as the Bestower of the prosperity secured, and in ascribing the success achieved wholly to ourselves. The true spirit is that which prompts the acknowledgment, "All things come of thee" (1 Chronicles 29:14). The Lord is "Giver of all." Success is sometimes achieved by bad men. By fraud, oppression, reckless speculation, and by taking mean advantage, "the portion" of such is "made fat" and "their meat plenteous;" and in such cases all this is through the all-wise although often inscrutable permission of the Most High.

2. Spiritual success is also thus gained. In holy service we are but the instruments employed by God. The power is his, and the honour should all be laid at his feet. Baxter, when complimented at the close of his career upon the usefulness of his writings, said, "I was but a pen in the hand of my God, and what honour is due to a pen?"

II. MEN, FORGETFUL OF THIS AND TRACING TO THEMSELVES THE SUCCESS ACHIEVED, BECOME ELATED WITH THE PRIDE OF HUMAN SUFFICIENCY. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net," etc. (ver. 16). "They say in their heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). So Pharaoh said, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself" (Ezekiel 29:3). So Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built," etc. (Daniel 4:30). Pusey refers in illustration of this to certain North American Indians, "who designate their bow and arrow as the only beneficent deities whom they know;" to the Romans sacrificing to their military standards; and to the French referred to in the Times during the FrancoGerman War as "almost worshipping the mitrailleuse as a goddess." And this is still our peril. Because our possibilities are so great, we think that we can win all blessings for ourselves. Everywhere we see the worship of our human powers and means - the workman worshipping the strength of his arm and the deftness of his fingers, the man of business worshipping his skill and acuteness, and the man of science, human knowledge. Nor is the Church of God free from this spirit: for there is far too much of trusting to forms and ceremonies, to worldly alliances, to machinery and organization, as though these were the great essentials, and far too little of "looking up unto the hills whence cometh her help."


1. It reveals self-ignorance. For no one who really understands himself could possibly cherish this spirit.

2. It leads to oppression. The man who has exalted notions of his own powers and doings is likely to be proud and overbearing in his conduct towards others.

3. It is offensive to God. "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). "In all our ways, therefore, let us acknowledge him" and as we prosper in our course ascribe the success gained to his favour and blessing. In the language of Keble, let us say - .

"Should e'er thy wonder working grace
Triumph by our weak arm,
Let not our sinful fancy trace
Aught human in the charm:

"To our own nets ne'er bow we down,
Lest on the eternal shore
The angels, while our draught they own,
Reject us evermore." S.D.H

Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense to their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.
Nebuchadnezzar is here represented as gathering the people into his net, and then, forgetting that he was only an instrument, doing homage to his own power and skill, as though they had won for him the victory.

1. The most numerous illustrations of this spirit are those which may be found in the conduct of our secular work. The ungodliness of the daily life of men is a fact too manifest to be disputed. They see in every increase of their wealth and power a fresh evidence of their skill and strength; and, intoxicated with pride or vanity, burn incense only to their own net. Among those who bear the Christian name there are evidences only too palpable of its presence and power, now prone are we, in secular matters, to forget the relation in which we stand to God. The precept, "In all thy ways acknowledge Him," is either wholly ignored, or its application restricted to special spiritual exercises and duties. We need a more thorough and pervading sense of God's presence, and our reliance on Him to penetrate our lives. The danger is one to which we are specially liable in an age when the science and industry of man have achieved so much. Science has unveiled so many secrets of nature that we begin to fancy that there is nothing so hidden that the same skill may not drag it from its retreat. It is not wonderful that man should deify intellect, and forgetful of Him from whom comes every talent, should ask, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" Everywhere, in fact, do we see men thus exalting themselves and their own wisdom. They would fain put God out of His own world, by enthroning man in His place. To correct these godless views of life, God, from time to time, sends us solemn and emphatic warnings of His power and our dependence. The wise hear the rod, and who hath appointed it. Judgment instructs those whom the gentler voice of mercy did not reach.

2. Mark the development of this spirit in our spiritual life. Much apparently Christian service would not abide the Master's test, because so much of this earthly element enters into the spirit by which it is inspired. Is there not too often a disposition to trust in the wisdom of our plans and the efficiency of our instruments, rather than in that blessing which alone can make rich? Self-reliance, self-conceit, self-exaltation, self-seeking, self-worship, are evils that intrude even into religious institutions.(1) This spirit may reveal itself in the motives that induce activity in the service of the Church. Love to Christ is the only true and enduring motive of all Christian labour. But we may work to extend our party rather than to glorify God. There is danger in mere sectional attachments. Our motives may be more directly personal. We may labour only to gratify our own ambition or fancy. Our vanity may be pleased by the rich incense of flattery. Our desire for power may be gratified by the influence we gain over other men. There are tests which we may all employ with advantage to prove the character of our work.(2) The spirit displays itself in regard to the modes of Christian labour. There are two opposite extremes against which we have to guard. There are not a few who are crying out for a new Gospel. There are those who are sticklers not only for truth, but for the very phrases in which it is set forth. These two parties are wide as the poles asunder, yet they agree in this — they are both burning incense to their own net.(3) This spirit may reveal itself in the way in which we regard the results of Christian labour. In the hour of success we think more of the efficiency of the instrument than of the grace of the Divine Spirit. The greatest talent is insufficient if alone. We want all the power that Christians possess sanctified to Christ. We want to see the most perfect instrumentality, but we want something beyond that. There is no real power unless the Spirit of God be in our midst.

(J. Guinness Rogers, D. D.)

The word "drag" simply means a large fishing net. The bold metaphor of the text is that of a fisherman whose mind is so overborne by the large draughts of fish which he is continually taking that he begins actually to worship those nets which are the instruments of such wonderful success. The prophet is portraying the condition of the Babylonian Empire. It had been swallowing up the smaller nations. Puffed up by its military successes, it had sunk into a condition of practical atheism. They came to worship the resources which they had at their disposal. They paid homage to material power. In answer to his prayer the prophet receives a vision of judgment. Haughty, idolatrous Babylon will not continue for ever. They worshipped the net; they would be captured by the net of another military empire. The sin of man keeps repeating itself throughout the ages. Notwithstanding all the lessons of the past, there are still multitudes who forget the living God. They seek their own gratification and aggrandisement. When they are successful they are puffed up with pride. They boast themselves of the means and methods which have been the instruments of their success. Let us be thankful that the righteousness of God keeps repeating itself too. The principles of the Divine government are eternal. God was in the history of old Judaea and Assyria, but He is also in the history of every nation of modern Europe. His providence must not be left out of human calculations. Have we in England learnt the lesson that only "righteousness" can really and permanently exalt any nation? How prone are we to magnify the instruments of our national greatness! We worship rank, wealth, intellect, business. But God is not mocked, and in many ways He breaks men's idols before their eyes.

(T. Campbell Finlayson.)

— In our times the idolatry of work has replaced the thirst for wisdom; there is no time to fill the treasure-house, and there is no time to dispense its stores. The consequences of this sort of life are sufficiently mischievous before we bring in on it the light of Christ and the Gospel. What was our Lord's teaching in correction of this tendency to an idol-worship of work? He taught that work is not an end, but a means. It may be fruitful or unfruitful, stopping with itself, or producing something. It is essentially of two kinds — it may begin with itself, or it may have a beginning behind it; it may be (so to say) its own life, or it may be the manifestation of a life prior and ancient. Not the work, but the workman, is the all-important thing. All depends, not upon what the man wrought, but upon what he was.

(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

The over-estimate of one's capabilities and powers, and the depreciation of the capabilities and Dowers of all other people. Self-knowledge is not self-conceit. Nor is the right and diligent use of the talents with which God has entrusted us any indication of self-conceit. Illustration-The principle contained in the words, "They sacrifice unto their own net," etc.

I. MEN DO THIS WHEN THEY ATTRIBUTE THEIR TEMPORAL PROSPERITY TO THEIR OWN SKILL AND ENERGY, AND NOT TO GOD. Wealth may, or may not, be a proof of skill and industry. Self-reliance is a noble quality; it is different from self-sufficiency. But we are dependent upon God.


III. WHEN THEY ATTRIBUTE THE PROSPERITY OF A COUNTRY TO ANY OTHER SOURCE THAN TO GOD. Patriotism is a virtue. Our prosperity may be ascribed to different causes. Let us honour God; let not our pride weaken us.


V. WHEN THEY DEPEND FOR THE SPREAD OF GOD'S RULE ON HUMAN PLANS AND ORGANISATIONS, AND NOT ON THE BLESSING OF THE HIGHEST. "The excellency of the power is of God." Without God's presence and blessing all that we do is in vain.

(James Owen.)

This passage discovers to us the secret impiety of all those who do not serve God sincerely and with an honest mind. There is, indeed, imprinted on the hearts of men a certain conviction respecting the existence of a God; for none are so barbarous as not to have some sense of religion; and thus all are rendered inexcusable, as they carry in their hearts a law which is sufficient to make them a thousand times guilty. But at the same time the ungodly, and those who are not illuminated by faith, bury this knowledge, for they are enveloped in themselves; and when some recollection of God creeps in, they are at first impressed, and ascribe some honour to him; but this is evanescent, for they soon suppress it as much as they can; yea, they even strive to extinguish (though they cannot) this knowledge, and whatever light they have from heaven. This is what the prophet now graphically sets forth in the person of the Assyrian king. He had before said, "This power is that of his God." He had complained that the Assyrians would give to their idols what was peculiar to God alone, and thus deprive Him of His right; but he says now, that they would "sacrifice to their own drag, and offer incense to their net." This is a very different thing; for how could they sacrifice to their idols if they ascribed to their drag whatever victories they gained? Now by the words "drag" and "net" the prophet means their efforts, strength, forces, power, councils, and policies, as they call them, and whatever else there be which profane men arrogate to themselves. But what is it to sacrifice to their own net? The Assyrian did this, because he thought he surpassed all others in craftiness; because he thought himself so courageous as not to hesitate to make war with all nations, regarding himself as well prepared with forces, and justified in his proceedings; and because he became successful, and omitted nothing calculated to ensure victory. Thus the Assyrian regarded as nothing his idols; for he put himself in the place of all his gods. But if it be asked, whence came his success? we must answer, that the Assyrian ought to have ascribed it all to the one true God; but he thought that he prospered through his own valour. If we refer to counsel, it is certain that God is He who governs the counsels and minds of men; but the Assyrian thought he gained everything by his own skill. If, again, we speak of strength, whence is it? And of courage, whence is it but from God? But the Assyrian appropriated all these things to himself. What regard, then, had he for God? We see how he now takes away all honour even from his own idols, and attributes everything to himself. But this sin belongs to all the ungodly; for where God's Spirit does not reign there is no humility, and men ever swell with inward pride until God thoroughly Cleanse them. It is, then, necessary that God should empty us by His special grace, that we may not be filled with this Satanic pride, which is innate, and which cannot by any means be shaken off by us until the Lord regenerates us by His Spirit. God cannot be really glorified except when men wholly empty themselves.

( John Calvin.)

There is a curious passage in the prophecy of Habakkuk which speaks of fishermen who "sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their drag." I think that sometimes very true and earnest Christians are in danger of doing that. They almost worship the visible Church, which, after all, is only a net "to catch men" for Christ. They delight in its historic character. They glory in its apostolic order. They venerate every feature of its organic structure. In one word, it becomes no more a spiritual Church, but a kingdom of this world. But by and by a terrible shock shakes them like an earthquake. Some iniquity appears in Zion. Wickedness shelters itself under the robes of piety. Political scheming creeps into ecclesiastical councils. The very law of the Church is made an instrument of oppression. They stand confounded and amazed. What means it all? Why, it means just this, that Christ is telling you that no earthly kingdom is the Church of Christ. This is not your rest. The marriage supper of the Lamb is not in the poor feast of a visible Church. The "New Jerusalem" is not yet let down from God Out of heaven.

(Bishop Cheney.).

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