Introduction to Habakkuk

 

Nahum had comforted Judah with the assurance that the power of Assyia

should be overthrown, though for a time it was permitted to afflict the

people of God. Habakkuk warns Judah of another great empire which was

commissioned to chastise her backslidings (in spite of the partial

reformation under Josiah), but which should itself suffer the vengeance

which its iniquities merited. The predicted fate of Nineveh had lulled the

Judaeans into a false security, so that they forgot the dangers that

threatened them, and, though they were no longer guilty of idolatry or

selfish luxury, they relapsed into carelessness, forgetfulness of God, and

various evil practices. Habakkuk is commissioned to show them that

punishment was waiting for them at the hands of the Chaldeans, from

whom as yet they had not realized their danger, though Isaiah (Isaiah

39:6, etc.) had forewarned Hezekiah that his treasures should be carried to

Babylon and his sons be servants in the palace of the king. The Chaldeaans

were hitherto little known in Judaea, and prophecies referring to them

made but slight impression on the hearers. It was not, indeed, till Nineveh

had fallen that Babylon, long an appanage of Assyria, secured its

independence, and entered on its short but brilliant career of conquest.

Nabopolassar, who had treacherously joined the Medes and aided in the

capture of Nineveh, obtained the hand of the Median kings daughter for

his son Nebuchadnezzar, and received, as the reward of his treachery, not

only Babylonia itself, but a large portion of the Assyrian territory, including

the suzerainty over Syria and Palestine. Thus the way was prepared for the

interference of the Chaldeans in Jewish affairs. The overthrow of Pharaoh-

Necho, King of Egypt, at Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar left the

Babylonian monarch free to punish the revolt of Jehoiakim, and to continue

the hostile measures which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and

the deportation of the Jews. The prophecy of Habakkuk is an organic

whole, divided into two parts, the first of which is a colloquy between God

and the prophet, in which is announced the judgment coming upon Judah

through the instrumentality of the Chaldeans; the second is a magnificent

ode celebrating the punishment of Gods enemies and the salvation of the

pious. After announcing his office and mission, the prophet (ch. 1.)

expostulates with God on the iniquity and corruption which abounded in

Judaea, and complains that it has not sooner been checked and the

righteous released from suffering at the hands of the wicked. God answers

that the day of retribution is at hand, for He commissions the Chaldeans, a

fierce, rapacious, warlike nation, to punish the sinful people. Terrified at

this account of the Chaldeans, the prophet beseeches the Lord not to

punish unto death, and not to involve the good in the fate of the evil, and

asks how God, in His holiness, can look calmly on the wickedness of those

whom He uses as the instruments of his vengeance. The prophet (ch. 2.)

waits for the answer to his expostulation; and God graciously replies, and

bids him write the oracle plainly that all may read, because, though the

fulfilment may be delayed, IT IS ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN! The law of His

kingdom is that the just shall live by faith; that righteousness has the promise of life

and is life, but the proud and evil shall perish. This asserts the doom of the

Chaldeans in general terms; and then their fall is announced in more

particular form, under five special woes, arranged strophically, and

supposed to be uttered by the nations whom they had oppressed. They are

thus denounced for:

 

      insatiate ambition,

      covetousness,

      cruelty,

      drunkenness, and

      idolatry.

 

Sof if the evils among the Jews are about to meet with chastisement, yet

destruction awaits the oppressing Chaldeans, and Gods justice is confirmed.

The psalm that follows (ch. 3.) illustrates and, as it were, recapitulates the

substance of the previous portion. Habakkuk professes himself greatly terrified

at the judgment announced, and prays the Lord, while carrying out His threat,

to remember mercy. Then he depicts the coming of the Lord to judge the world and

to bring salvation to the righteous. He describes the theophany wherein God showed

His majesty and power, and made the nations and inanimate nature to tremble. He

delineates the judgment against the enemies of the Church, first

symbolically, by the agitation of material things at the Lords presence, and

then properly, by its effect on the ungodly in this world. And through all

runs a stream of consolation in that salvation is promised to the righteous

amid the wreck of evil men. He ends the ode by describing the effects of

this manifestation on the people of God, viz, fear at the coming

chastisement, and hope and joy at the future salvation.

 

 

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