The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Habakkuk 1

Hab 1:1

See Lesson, Prophet, the.

See Lesson, Minor prophets, and their messages.

HABAKKUK: The name probably means "the one who embraces". Nothing is known of his family.

"Now while Nahum looked at the latter day deliverance of Israel through the fall of Nineveh, Habakkuk contemplated the same consummation through the typical fall of Nebuchadnezzar's Dynasty. He saw Babylon in the plenitude of its power. Success would intoxicate the Golden Head, whose spirit would change, and he would transgress and offend by imputing his power to his own strength. And while Babylon triumphed, he saw that Israel and the nations were enclosed in its net, being subjected thereby to spoliation and great distress. He was desirous to know what all this would result in. He therefore besought Jehovah to reveal to him what the end would be. His petition was granted, and the consummation was represented to him in a vision, which is to speak 'at the end.' He saw in that epoch, which is termed 'the Day of Trouble,' a chief of nations, proud, covetous, rapacious, and impious, as Belshazzar; who will not confine himself to his own territories, but will enlarge his desire as the grave, and will be as death, which cannot be satisfied, but will gather to his throne all nations, and laden himself with all people as with thick clay. He saw this Power in vision execrated in its time as the spoiler of the nations, and the violator of the land of Israel, Jerusalem, and its inhabitants... Habakkuk saw that 'the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea' [Hab 2:14]; but he saw also that this could not be the character of the times until this Clay-Power should be removed out of the way. It was accordingly shown to him that the power should be broken by certain who should 'rise up suddenly' and 'awake'; and that the sleepers who shall awake to life and stand upon their feet for action, shall bite, and vex, and spoil him. These are the Saints he saw in vision..." (Eur).

Hab 1:2

Vv 2-4: This section is a lament and is similar to many psalms of lament (eg, Psa 6:3; 10:1-13; 13:1-4; 22:1-21; 74:1-11; 80:4; 88; 89:46; cp Jer 12:4; Zec 1:12; Rev 6:10).

HOW LONG, O LORD, MUST I CALL FOR HELP, BUT YOU DO NOT LISTEN?: In prayer the prophet asked Yahweh "how long" would he have to call for help before the Lord responded (cp Hab 2:6; Exo 16:28; Num 14:11). God hears all prayers because He is omniscient, but Habakkuk meant that God had not given evidence of hearing it by responding to his prayer. He had cried out to the Lord reminding Him of the violence that he observed in Judah, but the Lord had not provided deliverance (cp Gen 6:11,13; Job 19:7). God had apparently not heard, and He certainly had not helped the prophet.

"Habakkuk is a book in which a man, the prophet, asked questions and received answers. Note, for example, Hab 1:2, which voices the prophet's initial question. Then turn to Hab 3:19, which gives his final affirmation after having received answers. The contrast between these verses is startling. It is a contrast between a wail of despair and a shout of confidence. GCM observed, 'From the affirmation of faith's agnosticism we come to the affirmation of agnosticism's faith.'

"This is the story of Habakkuk. At the beginning we hear a believer questioning God. The prophet's problem was why God was not doing what He promised to do, specifically delivering His people from the violence with which the Babylonians were threatening them. Every believer faces the same problem sooner or later. Circumstances challenge the promises of God, and we wonder why God does not do something about the situation. Habakkuk wondered how God could use a more wicked nation, Babylon, to disciple the wicked Judahites.

"The key verse, Hab 2:4, is similar to the constricted part of an hour-glass. Everything that precedes it leads up to it, and everything that follows it results from it. It is like a doorway through which everything in the book passes" (Const).

Hab 1:3

WHY DO YOU TOLERATE WRONG?: Destruction, ethical wrong, strife, and contention were not only common, but they were increasing, yet Yahweh did nothing about the situation. The obvious import of this v is that Habakkuk himself was both seeing and suffering this wrong.

Hab 1:4

THE LAW IS PARALYZED: Or "slacked" (AV). The LXX has "ye slackers", and so Paul quotes in Acts 13:41: "you scoffers -- or despisers". These words were spoken to Jews, not Gentiles.

Hab 1:5

LOOK AT THE NATIONS AND WATCH -- BE UTTERLY AMAZED. FOR I AM GOING TO DO SOMETHING IN YOUR DAYS THAT YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE, EVEN IF YOU WERE TOLD: Even though this passage is used (Acts 13:41) to speak of the call of the Gentiles, God is here telling the prophet that He is going to use the evil Babylonians (v 6) to punish Judah: a very different kind of "call" indeed!

"The Jews of Habakkuk's day did not believe that God would allow the Gentiles to overrun their nation (cp Jer 5:12; 6:14; 7:1-34; 8:11; Lam 4:12; Amos 6). Yet their law and their prophets warned them that this could happen (cp Deu 28:49-50; 1Ki 11:14, 23; Jer 4; 5:14-17; 6:22-30; Amos 6:14).

Hab 1:6

I AM RAISING UP THE BABYLONIANS, THAT RUTHLESS AND IMPETUOUS PEOPLE, WHO SWEEP ACROSS THE WHOLE EARTH TO SEIZE DWELLING PLACES NOT THEIR OWN: Yahweh urged the prophet and his people to see that He was in the process of raising up the Chaldeans as a force and power in their world (cp, generally, Dan 4:17). The Neo-Babylonian Empire began its rise to world domination with the accession of Nabopolassar to the throne of Babylon in 626 BC. This aggressive king stimulated the Babylonians to become a ruthless and impetuous nation that had already marched through the ancient Near East and conquered several neighboring nations (cp Eze 28:7; 30:11; 31:12; 32:12).

THAT RUTHLESS AND IMPETUOUS PEOPLE: The ferocity and cruelty of the Chaldeans were proverbial: Isa 14:6; Jer 6:23; 50:42.

Hab 1:7

THEY ARE A LAW TO THEMSELVES: They lived by rules that they made rather than those that were customary at the time. Similarly the Third Reich called error truth and right wrong to suit its own purposes.

Hab 1:8

THEIR HORSES ARE SWIFTER THAN LEOPARDS: "I find the following concerning the horse in symbol in Daubuz. He says: 'The horse was of old used only for warlike expeditions, and not barely to ride, draw, and drudge, as it is now practised with us. Hence, in that noble description of the horse, in Job 39:18-25, there is no notice taken of any quality of his but what relates to war. So that the horse is the symbol of war and conquest.' When, therefore, the Spirit saith in Zec 10:3, 'Yahweh Tz'vaoth hath visited his flock the House of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle,' the meaning is, that he will ride them as their Commander-in-Chief, and make them conquerors over his enemies, glorious and successful.

"Thus in Psa 45:5 'rechav', to ride, is rendered in the LXX by 'basileuein', to reign. And in several other places to ride, signifies to have dominion... As a horse is warlike, so he is also a swift creature, and is therefore not only the symbol of conquest, but also of the speediness of it (Joel 2:4; Jer 4:13)" (Eur).

WOLVES AT DUSK: "Evening wolves" (AV). Or, "wolves of Arabia" (LXX)! "The evening wolf, infuriated by a day of hunger, was fiercer and more ravenous than he would have been in the morning. May not the furious creature represent our doubts and fears after a day of distraction of mind, losses in business, and perhaps ungenerous tauntings from our fellow men? How our thoughts howl in our ears, 'Where is now thy God?' How voracious and greedy they are, swallowing up all suggestions of comfort, and remaining as hungry as before. Great Shepherd, slay these evening wolves, and bid Thy sheep lie down in green pastures, undisturbed by insatiable unbelief" (CHS).

Hab 1:9

THEY ALL COME BENT ON VIOLENCE: The Babylonians loved violence. The faces of their warriors showed their love for battle as they moved irresistibly forward in conquest.

THEIR HORDES ADVANCE LIKE A DESERT WIND AND GATHER PRISONERS LIKE SAND: They were as effective at collecting captives from other countries as the sirocco winds from the East were at driving dust before them (cp Jer 18:17; Eze 17:10; 19:12; Jon 4:8). This enemy was advancing like a whirlwind gathering captives as innumerable as the sand.

Hab 1:10

THEY DERIDE KINGS AND SCOFF AT RULERS: The kings and rulers of the lands they overran were no threat to them.

THEY LAUGH AT ALL FORTIFIED CITIES: Treating them contemptuously (cp 2Ki 25:7; Isa 37:12,13).

THEY BUILD EARTHEN RAMPS AND CAPTURE THEM: They heaped up rubble to conquer fortifications; they did not need special machines but used whatever they found to build siege ramps to conquer them (cp 2Ki 19:32; Eze 4:2).

Hab 1:11

GUILTY MEN, WHOSE OWN STRENGTH IS THEIR GOD: As long as the Babylonians were simply doing God's will -- even if it involved punishing the people of God -- then they were safe. But when and if they worshiped themselves and their own power (which was, of course, inevitable), then Yahweh promised to hold them guilty because they were denying the one true God. Cp the pride of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 4:30: "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"

Hab 1:12

WE WILL NOT DIE: That is, not die eternally and as a nation! Habakkuk believed the Judeans would not perish completely because God had promised to preserve them forever (2Sa 7:16). The prophet now understood that Yahweh had appointed the Babylonians (as He had the Assyrians earlier: Isa 10:5) to judge the sinful Judeans. The God who had been a rock of security and safety for His people throughout their history had raised up this enemy to correct His people, not to annihilate them.

Hab 1:13

YOUR EYES ARE TOO PURE TO LOOK ON EVIL: Cp Job 15:15; Psa 5:4,5; 34:15,16; 1Pe 1:15,16.

WHY THEN DO YOU TOLERATE THE TREACHEROUS? WHY ARE YOU SILENT WHILE THE WICKED SWALLOW UP THOSE MORE RIGHTEOUS THAN THEMSELVES?: Why did Yahweh then look approvingly on the treachery of the Babylonians? Why did He not reprove them and restrain them when the Babylonians slew people who were more righteous than themselves?

The prophet's first question (vv 2-4) arose out of an apparent inconsistency between God's actions and His character. He was a just God, but He was allowing sin in His people to go unpunished. His second question arose out of the same apparent inconsistency. Yahweh was a just God, but He was allowing terrible sinners to succeed and even permitted them to punish less serious sinners. These questions evidenced perplexed faith rather than weak faith. Clearly Habakkuk had strong faith in God, but how God was exercising His sovereignty baffled him.

Hab 1:14

YOU HAVE MADE MEN LIKE FISH IN THE SEA, LIKE SEA CREATURES THAT HAVE NO RULER: Big fish eat little fish, and bigger fish eat the big fish. The same thing was happening in Habakkuk's world. Babylon was gobbling up the smaller nations, and Yahweh was not intervening in the process to establish justice.

Hab 1:15

THE WICKED FOE PULLS ALL OF THEM UP WITH HOOKS, HE CATCHES THEM IN HIS NET, HE GATHERS THEM UP IN HIS DRAGNET: Babylon was like a fisherman who took other nations captive with hook and net and rejoiced over his good catch. Babylonian monuments depict the Chaldeans as having driven a hook through the lower lip of their captives and stringing them single file, like fish on a string (W. Rudolph). This was an Assyrian tradition that the Babylonians continued. In another Babylonian relief, the Chaldeans pictured their major gods dragging a net in which their captured enemies squirmed (Laetsch). The Babylonians even gave credit to the tools they used to make their impressive conquests rather than to Yahweh (cp v 11). They had as little regard for human life as fishermen have for fish. That God would allow this to continue seemed blatantly unjust to the prophet.

Hab 1:16

THEREFORE HE SACRIFICES TO HIS NET AND BURNS INCENSE TO HIS DRAGNET, FOR BY HIS NET HE LIVES IN LUXURY AND ENJOYS THE CHOICEST FOOD: "Idolatry is not limited to those who bring sacrifices or burn incense to inanimate objects. People of position, power, and prosperity often pay homage to the business or agency that provided them their coveted status. It becomes their constant obsession, even their 'god' " (Blue, cited in Const).

Hab 1:17

IS HE TO KEEP ON EMPTYING HIS NET, DESTROYING NATIONS WITHOUT MERCY?: Habakkuk concluded his question by asking the Lord if the Babylonians would continue to carry on their evil practices without sparing anyone. Yahweh's policy of not interfering with Babylon's wickedness baffled Habakkuk more than His policy of not interfering with Judah's wickedness. It was Yahweh using a nation that practiced such excessive violence to judge the sins of His people that Habakkuk could not understand.

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