JUDGMENT UPON THE EVIL
IN THE FORM OF A COLLOQUY
BETWEEN THE PROPHET AND GOD.
The inscription of the book. (v. 1)
1 “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” The burden (see note on
Nahum 1:1). The prophet (ch. 3:1). This title, which is added in the inscriptions only
to the names of Haggai and Zechariah, and cursorily to that of Jeremiah (46, 47., 50.),
implies that he exercised the practical office of prophet, and was well known; and,
appended it here on account of the form in which his prophecy is cast, as being
addressed almost entirely to God or the Chaldeans, not to his own people. Did see.
In prophetic vision (see note on Amos 1:1).
A Prophet’s Burden (v. 1)
Ø His name. Habakkuk — “Embracing,” which might signify either “one
who embraces” or “one who is embraced.” Accepting the former sense,
Luther notes the suitability of the prophet’s name to his office. “He
embraces his people (in his prophecy), and takes them to his arms; i.e. he
comforts them, and lifts them up as one embraces a poor weeping child or
man, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better
soon;” though probably the name rather points to the character of the
prophet’s faith, which cleaved fast to the Lord amid the perplexity of
Ø His person. A Jewish prophet, belonging to the tribe of Levi, and
officially qualified to take part in the liturgical service of the temple
(ch. 3:19). Beyond this nothing is known of his history, the Jewish
legends concerning him being absolutely worthless.
His date. Uncertain. Before the arrival of the Chaldeans in
and therefore before the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1); but
whether in the reign of Manasseh or in that of Josiah, or in
that of Jehoiakim, is open to debate. That the Assyrians are not
mentioned as a power seems to indicate that by this time
fallen (B.C. 606), which speaks for the third of the above dates; that the
predicted judgment (v. 5) was to be so unlikely as barely to be credible
favors a time while
date in the reign of Manasseh. The moral and spiritual degeneracy of the
age in which Habakkuk lived (vs. 1-4) harmonizes less with the reign of
Josiah than with that of Manasseh or Jehoiakim. The latter is supported by
the fact that the Chaldeans appear to be depicted as already on their march
(v. 6); the former by the circumstance that the judgment is represented as
not immediately at hand, but only as certain to happen in the days of
those to whom the prophet spoke (v. 5).
Its contents. As Nahum had predicted the destruction of
Assyrian power, which had carried the ten tribes into captivity (II Kings
17:6), so Habakkuk declares:
the judgment about to
come upon the degenerate nation of
through the instrumentality of the Chaldeans; and
o the overthrow of the Chaldeans for their insatiableness, ambition,
cruelty, treachery, and idolatry.
Ø Its form. In the first two chapters the prophet sets forth his message in
the form of a conversation between himself and Jehovah, the prophet
addressing Jehovah in the language of complaint (vs. 1-4) and challenge
(vs. 12-17), and Jehovah in return replying to his complaint (vs. 5-11)
and to his challenge (ch. 2:2-19). In the third chapter Habakkuk
appends a prayer, which begins by supplicating mercy for the afflicted
people of God (ch. 3:1-2), and quickly passes into a sublime
description of Jehovah’s coming in the glory of the Almighty
(ibid. vs. 3-11) for the destruction of his foes (ibid. vs. 12-15) and the
salvation of His people and His anointed (v.13). The whole of the
prophecy has an ideal stamp. Not even
mentioned, and the Chaldeans 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
as the sinners who swallow up the righteous man.
Ø Its style. The lofty sublimity of this brief composition, as regards both
thought and expression, has been universally recognized. His language is
classical throughout. His view and mode of presentation bear the seal of
independent force and finished beauty. Habakkuk bears not
merely the prophet’s mantle, but also the poet’s wreath adorns his
honorable head. He is a Jeremiah and an Asaph in one. As regards
force and fullness of conception and beauty of expression, he was
certainly one of the most important among the prophets of the Old
Ø Its origin. No more in his case than in Nahum’s was this political
foresight, but inspiration. If this prophecy proceeded from the age of
Manasseh, political foresight is simply out of the question as its
explanation; if from the first years of Jehoiakim, it will be time enough to
admit that political foresight could certainly predict a Babylonian invasion
at a year’s distance when it has been shown that modern statesmen can
infallibly tell what shall be on the morrow. And, of course, if political
foresight could not certainly predict the Babylonian invasion at one year’s
distance, still less could it announce a Babylonian overthrow at a distance
of more than half a century. Political foresight, then, being an insufficient
hypothesis, Divine inspiration should be frankly admitted. Like Nahum,
Habakkuk “saw” the burden he delivered. In the New Testament the
book is cited as inspired (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Acts 13:40-41;
Ø That future events are known to God — Divine foreknowledge.
Ø That God can reveal these to men, should He so please —
“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the
things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children
for ever, that we may do ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LAW.”
Ø That those whom God selects to be His messengers nevertheless
retain their individual and characteristic modes of thought and
expression — inspiration not mechanical or uniform. “….no
prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For
the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but
holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
(II Peter 1:20-21)
In vs. 2-4, the prophet complains to God of the iniquity of his own nation, and its
2 “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out
unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!” Shall I cry; Septuagint,
κέκραξομαι – kekraxomai - The Hebrew is taken to imply that the prophet had
long been complaining of the moral depravity of
against it. And thou wilt not hear! The continuance of evil unchecked is an
anomaly in the prophet’s eye; and, putting himself in the position of the
righteous among the people, he asks how long this is to last. Even cry out
unto thee of violence; better, I cry out unto thee, Violence. A similar
construction is found in Job 19:7; Jeremiah 20:8. “Violence”
includes all manner of wrong done to one’s neighbor. Septuagint,
Βοήσομαι πρὸς σὲ ἀδικούμενος – Boaesomai pros se adikoumenos –
I will cry unto thee being wronged, as if the wrong was done to the prophet
himself. So the Vulgate, Vociferabor ad te vim patiens. But Habakkuk doubtless
speaks in the person of the righteous, grieved at the wickedness he sees around,
and the more perplexed as the Law led him to look for temporal rewards and
punishments, if in the case of individuals, much more in that of the chosen
nation (Leviticus 26., passim).
The Lamentation of a Good Man (v. 2)
for himself, but as the representative of the godly remnant
Habakkuk expostulates with Jehovah concerning the wickedness of the
times in which he lived. The picture he sets before Jehovah is one of deep
national corruption, such as existed in the days of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah
20:8; 22:3, 13-17). A picture of wickedness.
o Violence was abroad, as it had been in the days before the Flood
(Genesis 6:11), in the time of David (Psalm 55:9), and even later
in the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz (Micah 2:2; 6:12), practicing
spoliation, causing distress, and producing devastation, as it did
in the long past era of the patriarch of Uz (Job 24:l-12), evoking
strife and contention, perhaps partly through the natural resistance
of good men defending their property, but just as likely through
the spoliators quarrelling over their prey, leading to deceit and
treachery in order to gain its unhallowed end, “the wicked
compassing about the righteous,” and “plotting against the just”
o Iniquity abounded (Matthew 24:12), and that amongst a people
whose ideal vocation was holiness (Numbers 23:21); immoralities
whose source was a perverse heart (Matthew 15:19); such
practices as were inconsistent with the professions and privileges
of those who did them; iniquity, or that which was unequal, and
therefore contrary to LAW and TRUTH!
o The Law of God was fallen into disrespect. The Torah, or Divine,
revealed Law, which was meant to be the soul, the heart of
political, religious, and domestic life, was slacked; it was
benumbed or chilled, paralyzed through the moral and
spiritual apathy of the nation, which gave it no response and
yielded to it no obedience.
o Human justice was perverted. Because men’s hearts had
declined from the love of God, and had ceased to respect His
Law, judgment seldom or never proceeded forth against evil
doers; or, if it did, it went forth perverted. When criminals were
brought to trial, they could always secure a verdict in their favor.
Ø Public. It was not merely a degeneracy, eating its way secretly into the
vitals of the nation; the disease had already come to the surface. Vice and
irreligion were not practiced in private. Iniquity flaunted its robes openly
in the eyes of passers by. The prophet saw it, looked upon it, felt himself
surrounded by it. Spoiling and violence were before him; and sinners of
every description around him.
Ø Presumptuous. It was wickedness perpetrated, not merely against God’s
Law, but by God’s covenanted people, in the face of remonstrances from
God’s prophets, and under the eye of God Himself. The prophet states
that Jehovah as well as he had beheld the wickedness complained of.
Ø Ingrained. It was not a sudden outburst of moral and spiritual
corruption, but a long continued and deeply rooted manifestation of
national degeneracy, which had often sent the prophet to his knees,
and caused him to cry for Divine interposition.
Ø A frequent phenomenon. During the long antediluvian period Jehovah,
apparently without concern, allowed mankind to degenerate; though He
saw that the Wickedness of man was great in the earth (Genesis 6:5), it
was not till one man only remained righteous before Him that He
interposed with the judgment of a flood. From the era of the Flood
downwards He “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways”
(Acts 14:16). Job (Job 34:12) observed this to be the method of the
Divine procedure in his day, Asaph in his (Psalm 50:21), Habakkuk in his;
and today nothing can be more apparent than that it is not a necessary
part of Heaven’s plan that “sentence against an evil work” should be
“executed speedily.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
Ø A perplexing mystery. That God cannot be indifferent to sin, to the
wickedness of nations or to the transgressions of individuals, is self-
evident; otherwise He could not be God (Psalm 11:7; 111:9; 145:17;
Isaiah 57:15; I Peter 1:15; Revelation 4:8). But that, loving
righteousness and hating iniquity, He should seem to make no effort to
protect, vindicate, strengthen, and diffuse the one, or to punish, restrain,
and overthrow the other, — this is what occasions trouble to religious
souls reflecting on the course of providence (Job 21:7; Psalm 73:2).
The solution of the problem can only be that, on the one hand, He deems
it better that righteousness should be purified, tested, and established by
contact with evil, while, on the other hand, it seems preferable to His
wisdom and love that wickedness should have free scope to reveal its
true character, and ample opportunity either to change its mind or to
justify ITS FINAL OVERTHROW!
Ø Strange. Habakkuk had cried long and earnestly to Jehovah about the
wickedness of his countrymen. If rivers of waters ran not down his eyes
because they kept not Jehovah’s Law, as the psalmist tells us was the
case with him (Psalm 119:136), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1) wished
that it could have been with him, long processions of groanings ascended
from his bosom to the throne of God on that very account. Doubtless,
also, he expostulated with Jehovah about His seeming indifference,
saying, “How long, O Lord, will this wickedness prevail? and how
long wilt thou be silent?” Yet was there “no voice, nor any that
answered him,” any more than if he bad been a worshipper of Baal
(I Kings 18:26); and this although Jehovah was preeminently the
Hearer of prayer (Psalm 65:2), and had invited His people to call
upon Him in the day of trouble (ibid. ch. 50:15).
Ø Common. It is not wicked men alone whose prayers are denied — men
like Saul (I Samuel 28:6), and the inhabitants of
Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15) and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:14), but good
men like Job (Job 30:20) and David (Psalm 22:2) as well. As the
Syro-Phoenician woman cried after Jesus, and was answered never a
word (Matthew 15:23), so many prayers ascend from the hearts of
God’s people to which, for a time at least, no response returns.
Ø Valuable. Fitful to test the faith and sincerity of the petitioner, it is also
admirably calculated to teach him the sovereignty of God in grace as
well as in nature, to show him that, while God distinctly engages to
answer prayer, He undertakes to do so only in His own time and way.
Ø That no good man can be utterly indifferent to the moral and spiritual
character of the age in which he lives.
Ø That good men should bear the highest interests of their country before
God upon their hearts in prayer.
Ø That good men should never lose faith in two things:
o that God is on the side of righteousness, even when iniquity
appears to triumph; and
o that God hears their prayers, even when He delays to answer
or appears to deny them.
3 “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.” Why dost thou show me — Why dost thou
let me see daily with my own eyes — iniquity abounding, the very evil which
Balaam says (Numbers
23:21) the Lord had not found in
behold grievance. This should be, Dost thou look upon perverseness? He
asks how God can look on this evil and leave it unpunished. The Septuagint and
the Vulgate translate the word amal “trouble,” or “labor;” Keil,
“distress.” In this case it means the trouble and distress which a man inflicts
on others, as wrong doing seems to be generally spoken of. Spoiling and
violence are before me. “Spoiling” is robbery that causes desolation.
“Violence” is conduct that wrongs one’s neighbor. The two words are
often joined; e.g. Jeremiah 6:7; Amos 3:10. Vulgate, praedam et
injustitiam. These are continually coming before the prophet’s eyes. There
are that raise up strife and contention; better, there is strife, and
contention is raised. This refers to the abuse of the Law by grasping,
quarrelsome nobles. Septuagint, “Against me judgment hath gone, and the
judge receiveth bribes.” So the Syriac and Arabic. The Vulgate gives,
Factum est judicium, et contradictio potentior, where judicium is used in a
4 “Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for
the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong
judgment proceedeth.” Therefore. Because God has not interfered to put
an end to this iniquity, or because of the want of righteous judges, the following
consequences ensue. The Law is slacked. The Law. Torah, the revealed
code which governed the moral, domestic, and political life, “is chilled,” is
benumbed (Genesis 45:26), is no longer of any force or efficacy, is
become a dead letter. Διασκέδασται – Diaskedastai - is dispersed (Septuagint);
lacerate est (Vulgate). Judgment doth never go forth; i.e. right is powerless, as if
it had never been; justice never shows itself in such a case. Septuagint, οὐ
διεξάγεται εἰς τέλος – ou diexagetai eis telos - proceedeth not effectually; so the
Vulgate. Doth compass about. In a hostile sense, with threats and
treachery (Judges 20:43; Psalm 22:13). Septuagint, καταδυναστεύει –
katadunasteuei - prevails; Vulgate, praevalet adversus. Therefore.
Because the righteous are unable to act as they desire, being opposed by
the wicked. Wrong judgment proceedeth; rather, judgment goeth forth
perverted. Right, or what is so called, when it does come forth, is
distorted, wrested, so as to be right no more.
The Elegy (vs. 2-4)
In this brief and plaintive strain we have —
INIQUITY. Whatever may have been the exact date of this prophecy, it is
clear that the writer stood connected with the close of the kingdom of
touches, a vivid description of the depravity then prevailing in the land. He
bitterly laments over:
Ø The insecurity of property. “Spoiling and violence are before me” (v.3).
Ø The strifes of parties and factions. “And there are that raise up strife and contention” (v. 3).
Ø Laxity in the administration of the Law. “The Law is slacked, and
judgment doth never go forth” (v. 4).
Ø The good suffering unjustly at the hands of the evil. “The wicked doth
compass about the righteous “ (v. 4).
Ø The openness and audacity of wrong doers in this evil course. He
speaks of all this iniquity as being patent to the observer. Sometimes, “vice, provoked to shame, borrows the color of a virtuous deed;” but in this instance there Has no attempt at concealment or disguise, and no sense of shame. “Spoiling and violence are before me” (v. 3).
OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND IMPATIENT OF DELAY. The life of piety
is undoubtedly the happy life (Psalm 1:1). Still, it is not always
sunshine, even with the good. There are times in their experience when the
sky becomes overcast, and when they become depressed and sad at heart.
Although possessing “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” the pledge and the
earnest of the enjoyment at length of a fullness of blessing, they often
“groan within themselves” (Romans 8:23). And a very large ingredient
in the cup of sorrow the good have to drink is that occasioned by
beholding the blighting effects of sin. As they witness men unprincipled in
their dealings, impure in their speech, dishonorable in their transactions,
and as they note the pernicious influence and effects of such conduct, their
hearts are rendered sad, and they are constrained to long ardently for the
time when sin shall be completely vanquished, when it shall be banished
from this fair universe of God, and when there shall come in all its
perfection the reign of truth and righteousness, peace and love. This spirit
runs through the prophet’s mournful strain (vs. 2-4). “And
the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the
city, through the midst of
and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry
for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.” Ezekiel 9:4.
We recognize it also in the words of David, “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked!” etc. (Psalm 7:9), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:8-9), and impelled
by it many are crying today, “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why
tarry the wheels of his chariot?” (Judges 5:28)
APPEAL TO GOD IN PRAYER. (v. 2.) The seer did not question the
Divine rectitude, but his spirit was perturbed at the delay, and he yearned
with a holy impatience for the vindication of the honor of his God. And
under such conditions no course is so commendable as that of pouring our
plaint into the ear of Infinite Love. Prayer at such seasons will be found
Ø In tranquillizing the spirit, quieting and subduing agitation, and
imparting a sense of restfulness and peace.
Ø In linking our human weakness to God’s almighty strength, and thus
fitting us for reviewed service to Him. “Toil, pain, doubt, terror,
difficulty, — all retreat before the recognition of a great life purpose wrought out in entire dependence upon Heaven.”
Ø In causing light to shine through the dark cloud of mystery, helping us
to understand the Divine plan (Psalm 73:16-20), and so preparing the
way for our exchanging the mournful elegy for the rapturous melody of
thankful and adoring praise.
The Cry of a Good Man under the Perplexing Procedure of God.
“The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O Lord, how long shall
I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thee
wilt not save!” etc. Of Habakkuk nothing is known for certainty. The fifth
and sixth verses of the first chapter tell us that he prophesied before that
series of invasions by the Chaldeans which ended in the destruction of
years before Christ. He was therefore contemporary with Jeremiah and
Zephaniah. The book treats of the wickedness of the Jews, the infliction of
punishment upon the Chaldeans, and the destruction of the latter in their
turn. It has also a splendid ode, composed by the prophet in anticipation of
their deliverance from Babylonish captivity. His work is quoted by the
apostles (Hebrews 10:37-38; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Acts 13:41),
hence it was regarded as having Divine authority. His
style, in dignity and sublimity, is not surpassed by any of the Hebrew
prophets. He is original. His utterances are bold and animated; his
descriptions graphic and pointed. The lyric ode contained in the third
chapter is esteemed by most biblical critics as one of the most splendid and
magnificent in the whole compass of Hebrew poetry. The prophet sets
forth the cause of the Chaldean invasion, and the great wickedness that
abounded in the Jewish nation during his time. This was the burden of his
discourse. “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” What was
the burden? The heavy judgments impending over his nation. He saw it like
a mountain with his prophetic eye; nay, he felt it as a mountain on his heart.
This doom hanging over the Jewish people was indeed an intolerable
weight. The text contains the cry of a good man under the perplexing
procedure of God — “O Lord, how long shall I cry!” There seem to be
two elements in his perplexity.
Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!” Under the pressure of
“the burden” that was resting on his heart, viz. the moral corruption and
the coming doom of his country, it would seem that he had often cried
unto the Almighty and implored His interposition; but no answer had come.
How often have good men in every age felt that God disregarded their
supplications! They cried and cried, but no answer came. The heavens
seemed like brass; the oracles were hushed. It was thus with the Syro-
Phoenician woman. Christ for a time not only treated her application with
seeming indifference, but He even repulsed her. Why are not the prayers of
good men immediately answered? In reply to this question three undoubted
facts should be borne in mind.
Ø That importunity of soul is necessary to qualify for the appreciation of
the mercies sought. It is not until a man is made to feel the deep necessity
of a thing that he values it when it comes. If we obtained from the
Almighty what we required by one cry, or even by a series of mere formal
applications, the boon would be of doubtful service; it would scarcely be
appreciated, and would fail to fire the soul with the sentiments of devout
gratitude and praise. It is not what God gives a man that does him good; it
is the state of mind in which it is received that transmutes it either into a
blessing or a curse. “How long shall I cry!” How long? Until the sense of
need is so intensified as to qualify for the reception and due appreciation of the blessing.
Ø That the exercise of true prayer is in itself the best means of spiritual
culture. Conscious contact with God is essential to moral excellence. You
must bring the sunbeam to the seed you have sown, if you would have the
seed quickened and developed; and you must bring God into conscious
contact with your powers, if you would have them vivified and brought
forth into strength and perfection. True prayer does this; it is the soul
realizing itself in the presence of Him “who quickeneth all things.”
Ø That prayers are answered where there is no bestowment of the blessing
invoked. We know not what to pray for; and were we to have what we
seek, we might be ruined. Acquiescence in the Divine will is the highest
answer to all true prayer. Christ prayed that the cup should pass from Him. It did not pass from Him; but, instead, there came to Him the spirit of acquiescence in the Divine will: “Not my will, but thine be done.”
This is all we want. Acquiescence in the Divine will is the moral perfection, dignity, and blessedness of all creatures in the universe. With these facts let us not be anxious about the apparent disregard of God to
OF SOCIETY. “Why dost thou show 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 cloth compass about the righteous; therefore
wrong judgment proceedeth.” The rendering of Delitzsch is both faithful
and forceful, “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. Therefore the Law is benumbed, and justice
comes not forth forever: for sinners encircle the righteous man: therefore
justice goes forth perverted.” The substance of this is the old complaint,
“Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they
happy that deal very treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1). Two facts should
be set against this complaint.
Ø The good have the best of it, even in this life. Goodness is its own
reward. Take two men — one who enjoys the love and fellowship of God,
but who is destitute of this world’s good and lives in poverty; the other, in
whose heart reign the elements of wickedness, but who has an abundance
of the things of this life. Ask which of the two is the happier. The former,
without doubt. Benevolence is the fountain of happiness, and selfishness
the fountain of misery in both worlds. In this world give me poverty and
piety rather than riches with wickedness.
Ø That the evil will have the worst of it in the next life. There is no doubt
about this. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches this. (Luke 16:19-31) “When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed
forever” (Psalm 92:7).
CONCLUSION. Pray on, brother. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17)
Thy prayers are not lost. Let not God’s apparent disregard to the supplications of His
people and the moral condition of society perplex thy judgment and disturb
thy peace. Wait the great explaining day. “What thou knowest not now
thou shalt know hereafter.” (John 13:7)
To this appeal God answers that He will send the Chaldeans
to punish the evil doers with a terrible vengeance; but these, His
instruments, shall themselves offend by pride and impiety. (vs. 5-11)
5 “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder
marvelously: for I will work a work in your days which ye will not
believe, though it be told you.” Behold ye among the heathen; the nations.
God, in answer, bids the prophet and His people look among the nations for
those who shall punish the iniquities of which he complains. I will use a heathen
nation, He says,
as my instrument to chastise the sinners in
see that I have not disregarded the evil that is rife among you. Some
commentators suppose that the impious are addressed; but Habakkuk
spoke in the name and person of the righteous, and to them the answer
must be directed. The Septuagint, gives, Ιδετε, οἱ καταφρονηταί - Idete,
hoi kataphronaetai - Behold, ye despisers, which is justifiable. Paul quotes the
Greek Version, Acts 13:41, in his sermon at
warning those who despised the gospel. This was sufficiently close to the Hebrew
for his purpose. And regard, and wonder marvelously. They are to wonder
because the work is as terrible as it is unexpected. The Septuagint (quoted by
“be stupefied by astonishment,” die of amazement. I will work; I work. The
pronoun is not expressed, but must be supplied from v. 6. It is God who
sends the avengers. In your days. The prophet had asked (v. 2), “How
long?” The answer is that those now living should see the chastisement.
Which ye will not believe. If ye heard of it as happening elsewhere, ye would
not give credit to it; the punishment itself and its executors are both unexpected
(compare Lamentations 4:12).
6 “For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall
march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are
not theirs.” The executors of the Divine vengeance are now plainly
announced. I raise up. God does it; He uses the power and passion of men
to work out His designs (I Kings 11:14, 23; Amos 6:14). The Chaldeans; Kasidim.
By this appellation the prophets signify the soldiers or
won its independence and commenced its wonderfully rapid career of conquest after
the fall of
the Chaldeans had not appeared in
them was entertained. Bitter and hasty. The former epithet refers to their cruelty
and ferocity (compare Isaiah 14:6; Jeremiah 6:23; 50:42). They are called “hasty,”
as being vehement and impetuous in attack and rapid in movement. Which shall
march through the breadth of the land; which marcheth through the breadths
of the earth. The statement explains the general character of the Chaldeans, and
points to the foreign conquests of Nebuchadnezzar. Septuagint., Τὸ πορευόμενον
ἐπὶ τὰ πλάτη τῆς γῆς - To poreuomenon epi platae taes gaes – that march through
the breadth of the earth (compare Revelation 20:9).
7 “They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity
shall proceed of themselves.” They. The Hebrew is singular throughout. The
disposition of the people, as of one man, is depicted. Terrible; exciting terror, as
Song of Solomon 6:4, 10. Their judgment and their dignity shall
proceed of themselves; his judgment and his eminence are from himself.
The Septuagint translates the two nouns κρίμα – krima - judgment and λῆμμα –
laemma - dignity: Vulgate, judicium and onus. The meaning is that the Chaldeans
own no master, have no rule of right but their own will, attribute their glory and
superiority to their own power and skill (compare Daniel 4:30). They are like
Achilles in Horace, ‘Ep. ad Pison.,’ 121, etc. —
“Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,
Jura neget sibi nata, nihil non arroget armis.”
Hitzig quotes AEschyl. ‘Prom.,’ 186, Παρ ἑαυτῷ τό δίκαιον ἔχων – Par heauto to
dikaion echon - Holding as justice what he deemeth so.
8 “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.” Their horses, etc. Jeremiah (4:13) compares
their horses to eagles (compare Job 39:19, etc.). The punishment predicted in
Deuteronomy 28:49, etc., is to come upon the Jews. We often read of
the cavalry and chariots of the Chaldeans (Jeremiah 4:29; 6:23; Ezekiel 23:23-24).
Evening wolves. Wolves that prowl for food in the evening, and are then fiercest
(Jeremiah 5:6; Zephaniah 3:3). Septuagint (with a different pointing), “wolves of
“bear themselves proudly,” or “gallop.” Septuagint, ἐξιππάσονται – exippasontai.
The Anglican Version seems correct implying that the cavalry, like Cossacks or
Uhlans, swept the whole country for plunder. The verbs throughout vs. 8-11
should be rendered in the present tense. From far. From
The preceding clause was of general import; the present one refers to the invasion
(compare also Jeremiah 48:40; 49:22; Lamentations 4:19).
9 “They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and
they shall gather the captivity as the sand.” They shall come all for violence.
All, every one of the invaders, come for violence — to repay that violence of which
Habakkuk complained (v. 2). Septuagint, Συντέλεια εἰς ἀσεβεῖς ἥξει – Sunteleia eis
asebeis haexei - An end shall come upon the impious; Vulgate, Omnes ad praedam
venient. Their faces shall sup up as the east wind. The word translated “shall sup up”
occasions perplexity, being an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον (of one time use in the Bible). The
Anglican rendering is virtually supported by other versions, e.g. Symmachus,
Chaldee, and Syriac. The Vulgate, too, gives, facies eorum ventus urens, which
Jerome explains, “As at the blast of a burning wind all green things dry up, so at
the sight of these men all shall be wasted.” This is the meaning of the
Anglican Version, which, however, might be improved thus: The aspect of
their faces is as the east wind. The Revisers have, Their faces are set
eagerly as the east wind, which does not seem very intelligible. Other
renderings are, “the endeavor,” or “desire of their faces is directed to the
east,” or “forwards.” (This rendering has the support of Orelli and others.)
“The crowd of their faces,” as equivalent to “the multitude of the army”
which is not a Hebrew phrase found elsewhere. Septuagint, ἀνθεστηκότας
anthestaekotas - (agreeing with ἀσεβεῖς – asebeis – ungodly - in the first clause)
προσώποις αὐτῶν ἐξεναντίας – prosopois auton exenantias - resisting with their
adverse front. The effects of the east wind are often noted in Scripture; e.g.
Genesis 41:6, 23; Job 27:21; Hosea 13:15. They shall gather the captivity as the
sand. “He collects the captives as sand” — a hyperbolical expression to denote
the numbers of captives and the quantity of booty taken. The mention of the
east wind brings the thought of the terrible simoom, with its columns of sand.
10 “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.” And they shall scoff, etc.; it, or he, scoffeth at kings. The
Chaldean nation makes light of the power and persons of kings. Compare
Nebuchadnezzar’s treatment of Jehoiakim (II Chronicles 36:6; II Kings 24:1,3;
Jeremiah 22:19) and Jehoiachin (II Kings 24:12, 15). They shall deride every
strong hold. The strongest fortress is no impediment to them. They shall heap
dust. This refers to the raising of a mound or embankment for the purpose of
attacking a city (compare II Samuel 20:15; II Kings 19:32; 25:1). In the Assyrian
monuments one often sees representations of these mounds, or of inclined planes
constructed to facilitate the approach of the battering ram.
The Doom of a Nation of Conventional Religionists. (vs. 5-10)
“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I
will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told
you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation; which
shall march through the breadth of the land,” etc. In these verses we have
the doom of a nation of conventional religionists. The Jews were such a
nation; they prided themselves in the orthodoxy of their faith, in the
ceremonials of their worship, in the polity of their Church. “To them
pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of
the Law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). But
they had now become abhorrent to their Maker. He was weary of them,
and He threatens them with a terrible doom; the doom was so terrible that
“ye will not believe, though it be told you.” The doom threatened was
terrible in many respects.
WICKED NATION. “I will work a work in your days, which ye will not
believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter
and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to
posen the dwelling places that are not theirs.” Nabopolassar had already
destroyed the mighty empire of
Babylonian rule. He had made himself so formidable that Necho found it
necessary to march an army against him, in order to check his progress;
and, though defeated at
Nebuchadnezzar, gained a complete victory over the Egyptians at
Carehemish. These events were calculated to alarm the Jews, whose
country lay between the dominions of the two contending powers; but,
accustomed as they were to confide in
their own capital (Isaiah 31:1; Jeremiah 7:4), and being in alliance
with the Chaldeans, they were indisposed to listen to, and treated with the
utmost incredulity, any predictions which described their overthrow by that
people. Observe that God employs wicked nations as His instruments.
“Lo, I raise up the Chaldeans.” “I will work a work,” He says; but how?
By the Chaldeans. How does He raise up wicked nations to do His work?
Ø Not instigatingly. He does not inspire them with wicked passions
necessary to qualify them for the infernal work of violence, war, rapine,
bloodshed. God could not do this. The diabolic passions are in them.
Ø Not coercively. He does not force them to it; in no way does He interfere
with them. They are the responsible party. They go forth on the bloody
message with a consciousness of freedom. How, then, does He “raise” them up? He permits them. He could prevent them; but He allows them. He gives them life, capacity, and opportunities; but He does not inspire or coerce them. Now, would not the fact that the destruction of the Israelites would come upon them from a heathen nation, a nation which they despised, make it all the more terrible?
Ø The violence would be uncontrolled. “Their judgment and their dignity
shall proceed of themselves.” They recognize no authority, and proudly
spurn the dictates of others. They recognize no judge save themselves,
and they get for themselves their own dignity, without needing others’
help. It will be vain for the Jews to complain of their tyrannical judgments,
for whatever the Chaldeans decree they will do according to their own will: they will not brook any one attempting to interfere.
Ø The violence would be rapid and fierce. “Their horses are swifter than
the leopards.” A naturalist says of the leopard that it runs most swiftly,
straight on, and you would imagine it was flying through the air. “More
fierce than the evening wolves.” These ravenous beasts, having skulked all the day away from the light of heaven, get terribly hungry by the night, and come forth with a fierce voracity. Like the swift leopards and the ravenous wolves, we are here told, these Chaldeans would come forth. Yes, and swifter and more ravenous than the wolves, like the hungry eagle on its pinions that “hasteth to eat.” What a terrible description of their doom. Alas! into what a monster sin has transformed man! He becomes leopard, wolf, eagle, etc.
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 stronghold; for they shall heap dust, and take
it.” As the east wind, they would sweep through the country, like the
simoom, spreading devastation wherever it passed; and like that wind
would bear away the Jews into captivity, thick as the sand. “They shall
scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them.” They would
regard all the great magnates of
them with derision. And so would they be in their bloody expedition. They
would regard their very conquering power as their god, and worship their
CONCLUSION. All this was to come upon a nation of conventional
reglionists. All peoples whose religion is that of profession, letter, form,
ceremony, are exposed to a doom as terrible as this.
11 “Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend,
imputing this his power unto his God.” Then shall his mind change;
Τότε μεταβαλεῖ τὸ πνεῦμα – Tote metabalei to pneuma – then he sweeps by
like the wind (Septuagint); Tunc mutabitur spiritus (Vulgate). From the ease
and extent of his conquests the Chaldean gains fresh spirit. But it is best to
translate differently, Then he sweepeth on as a wind. The Chaldean’s inroad is
compared to a tempestuous wind, which carries all before it. And he shall
pass over. This is explained to mean, he exceeds all limits in his arrogancy,
or he passes onward through the land. The former interpretation regards
what is coming, the latter keeps to the metaphor of the wind. And offend.
He is guilty, or offends, as the next clause explains, by attributing his
success to his own prowess and skill. Thus the prophet intimates that the
avenger himself incurs God’s displeasure, and will suffer for it. Septuagint,
καὶ ἐξιλάσεται – kai exilasetai – and indeed guilty. Imputing this his
power unto his god; more literally, this his power is his god; Revised
Version, even he whose might is his god. He defies the Lord, and makes
his might his god. (For such pride and self-glorification, compare Isaiah
14:13; 47:7, etc.; Daniel 4:30.) Thus Mezentius, the despiser of the
gods, speaks in Virgil, ‘AEn.,’ 10:773 —
“Dextra mihi deus et telum, quod missile libro,
Compare Statius, ‘Theb.,’ 3:615 —
“Virtus mihi numen, et ensis, Quem teneo.”
Judgment on the Wing (vs. 5-11)
Its subjects. The land and people of
covenanted people, had declined from His worship, departed
from His ways, dishonored His Name. It was in the covenant that, under
such circumstances, they should be chastised (II Samuel 7:14; Psalm
89:30-32); and Jehovah is never unmindful of His covenant
engagements (Psalm 111:5), if men are of theirs (II Timothy 2:12-13).
Ø Its Author. Jehovah. “The Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25),
“His eyes behold and His eyelids try the children of men” (Psalm 11:4),
communities and nations no less than individuals (Psalm 67:4). As
“justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne” (Psalm 89:14),
so “all His ways are judgment” (Deuteronomy 32:4), and “the works of
His hands are verity and judgment” (Psalm 111:7). As the least
significant occurrence (Matthew 10:29), so the most momentous,
cannot happen without the Divine permission. The Supreme is behind all
second causes. He regulates the rise and fall of nations and kings (Job
12:23; Psalm 75:7), the ebb and flow of ocean (Job 38:11), the
movements of the heavenly bodies (Job 38:31-33), the growth and
decay of flowers (Isaiah 40:7). When
holds the rod.
Ø Its certainty. Being matter of clear and definite promise on the part of
Jehovah: “I will work a work;” “Behold, I raise up the Chaldeans.” So
certain is Jehovah’s future judgment of His enemies (Malachi 3:5;
Acts 17:31). This, like that, has no basis but Jehovah’s announcement.
That this will not fail may be inferred from the accomplishment of that.
Ø Its vicinity. Close at hand. “Behold, I work a work in your days”
obviously meant that within a generation at furthest the Divine stroke
should descend on
regard it as near. In the same way are Christians directed to think of
the judgment of the great day as at hand (James 5:9; I Peter 4:7;
Revelation 22:12), though of that day and of that hour knoweth no
man (Mark 13:32) more than this, that it is certain (Job 21:30;
Psalm 1:4; Daniel 7:10; Matthew 25:32; Hebrews 9:27).
Ø Its strangeness. It should be both startling and incredible.
o Startling. As to its Author, Jehovah; as to the quarter whence it
should proceed, from among the heathen; as to the power by
which it should be inflicted, the Chaldeans, when they might
rather have expected the Assyrians (if Habakkuk prophesied
under Manasseh) or the Egyptians (if he flourished in the first
years of Jehoiakim); as to the suddenness with which it should
spring forth, there being at the time when Habakkuk wrote
no tokens of its coming discernible on the horizon. So will
the judgment of the great day surprise the ungodly world
and a sleeping Church (Matthew 24:27-44; 25:6;
I Thessalonians 5:2-3; Revelation 16:15).
Incredible. So unlikely did a Chaldean invasion of
that Jehovah felt nothing but an actual experience of the same
would ever convince His people of it. A simple fore-announcement
of it would not suffice to carry conviction of its reality to their
mind, although, of course, it should. That this was true, the
reception accorded to Jeremiah’s prediction of Nebuchadnezzar’s
26:8-11). Up to the moment when the Chaldean armies arrived
neither Jehoiakim nor his people would allow that a Chaldean
conquest was so much as possible. Events, however, proved
them to be in error. So the antediluvians knew not till the Flood
came and TOOK THEM ALL AWAY (Matthew 24:39). So shall
the coming of the Son of man be (II Peter 3:1-10).
or Babylonian power, at the time subject to
risen to the ascendency it afterwards enjoyed under Nebuchadnezzar and
his successors. The prophet depicts it when raised up, not only into a
nation, but against
Ø Its natural disposition. He calls it “a bitter and hasty nation,” i.e. fierce
and rough, heedless and rash, and represents it as marching through the
breadth of the earth, impelled by covetousness, and making a way for
itself by sheer brute force and violence — taking possession of dwelling
places not its own.
Ø Its formidable appearance. “They are,” or he, i.e. the nation, is,
“terrible and dreadful,” by its very name and much more by its
aspect and actions inspiring terror in the breasts of beholders.
Ø Its presumptuous self-sufficiency. “Their judgment and dignity
proceed from themselves;” i.e. conscious of its own strength,
it determines for itself its own rule of right, and ascribes to itself
its elevation above the other nations of the earth. This putting of self
instead of God in the place of honor and seat of authority is the
essence of all sin. Wicked men walk after the counsels and in the
imaginations of their own evil hearts (Jeremiah 7:24), and are prone
to arrogate to themselves what should be rendered to God, viz. the
glory of their successful achievements (Deuteronomy 8:17; Judges 7:2).
Ø Its military strength.
o Its horses swifter than leopards, lighter of foot than panthers,
which spring with the greatest rapidity on their prey, and fiercer
than evening wolves, or wolves going forth at eventide after
having fasted all day — an emblem of ferocity applied to the
judges of Judah (Zephaniah 3:3).
o Its horsemen or warriors coming from afar and spreading
themselves abroad — “Neither distance of march shall weary
nor diffusion weaken them — darting upon its foes like an eagle
hasting to devour, a bird to which Nebuchadnezzar is compared
(Jeremiah 48:40; Lamentations 4:19; Ezekiel 17:3; Daniel 7:4).
o Both bent upon violence and having their faces set eagerly as
the east wind, i.e. either set towards the front with determination,
or like the east wind for devastation. Thus the characteristics of
Babylonian warfare were — swiftness of movement,
simultaneousness of action in the different parts of the army,
unanimity of purpose, determination and ferocity, qualities the
existence of which in them the monuments sufficiently attest.
Ø Its warlike achievements.
o The deportation of subjected populations. “They gather captives
as the sand,” i.e. countless as the particles which the east wind
raises, sweeping over the sand wastes, where it buries whole
caravans in one death.
o The defiance of all opposition. “Yea, he scoffeth at kings, and
princes are a derision unto him.” So Nebuchadnezzar did with
Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah (II Kings 24:15; 25:6-7;
II Chronicles 36:5-21).
o The capture of every stronghold. No fortress could withstand the
Babylonian conqueror. Not even
betokened its strength. The most impregnable garrison seemed
only to require that he should heap up a little dust against it,
and it was taken.
o Its daring impiety. Rushing on like a swollen torrent, like his
the land like a tempestuous wind over the sandy desert, it
overleaps all barriers and restraints both Divine and human,
and stands convicted before God as a guilty transgressor.
o Its shameless blasphemy. The culmination at once of its offence
and of its guilt is that it deifies its own might, saying, “Lo, this
my strength is my god!” Such was the spirit of Nebuchadnezzar
(Daniel 4:30) and of Belshazzar (Isaiah 14:14); such will be that
of the future antichrist (II Thessalonians 2:4).
Ø That if God’s people sin they must look for chastisement
(Deuteronomy 11:28; Psalm 89:32).
Ø That if God’s people are chastised for their offences, God’s
enemies cannot hope to escape punishment for theirs (I Peter 4:17-18).
Ø That God can always lay His hand upon an instrument wherewith to
inflict punishment upon His people (Isaiah 10:5).
Ø That wicked men and nations whom God employs in the execution
of His judgments do not thereby escape responsibility for their own
actions (Isaiah 10:12).
Ø That the deification of self is the last delusion of a foolish heart
The Divine Working against Evil and Its Doers (vs. 5-11)
We have expressed here God’s response to the impassioned appeal
addressed to Him by His servant. There is much that is suggestive in these
words as bearing upon the Divine working against those who practice sin
and who persist in its commission. Note:
PREVAILING UNGODLINESS. The seer had asked, “How long?” (v.2).
He was impatient of delay. But whilst there is this lingering on the part
of God, so that “judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily”
(Ecclesiastes 8:11), this is owing to the Divine long suffering and
patience, and does not arise from indifference and unconcern being
cherished by the Most High in reference to iniquity. Wrong doing is ever
before Him, is closely observed by Him. It is the source of displeasure to
Him who is perfect in purity, and the requital of it will assuredly be
experienced by transgressors. Though it may tarry, it will surely come.
(ch. 2:3) “I will work a work,” etc. (v. 5).
EXECUTING HIS JUDGMENTS, OVERRULES THE ACTIONS OF
EVIL MEN, AND CAUSES THESE TO FULFIL HIS
RIGHTEOUSNESS. The verses contain a wonderfully graphic account of
the Chaldeans who were to be the instruments of the Divine chastisement
them, so vivid is the portrayal, that we seem to see the Chaldean horsemen
sweeping through the land like the simoom, causing death and desolation
to follow in their track, we also have presented to us certain traits most
clearly indicative of their gross wickedness.
Ø Their proud ambition to possess the dwelling places that were
not theirs (v. 6);
Ø their fierceness and cruelty (ver. 7);
Ø their self-sufficiency (ver. 7);
Ø their scorn and contempt. (v. 10) and their blasphemy (v.11);
— all pass in review before us. And these were chosen to be the executors
of the Divine judgments! “For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans” (v. 6). The
meaning is that God, in His providence, would permit “that bitter and hasty
nation” to be a scourge to His chosen people on account of their
transgression. The Chaldeans, in seeking their own ends, should be made
to fulfil the Divine behests. Man is wondrously free to act; and he often
does act without any regard to truth and righteousness. The world, indeed,
is full of evil doers acting according to their own devices; but “He that
sitteth in the heavens” is guiding and directing all to the accomplishment of
His own high purposes and to the fulfilment of His holy and gracious will.
SOMETIMES EMPLOYS UNEXPECTED AGENTS. The Hebrew state
was at this time in close alliance with the Chaldean state, an alliance so
close and friendly that the Hebrew politicians had no fear of its rupture.
Yet it was in this wholly unexpected form that the Divine judgment was to
come upon them. The Chaldeans in whom they trusted, on whom they
leaned, were to give the death blow to the dynasty of David. All the
material and moral forces of the universe are under THE DIVINE
CONTROL and in ways and by means little anticipated His retributions
often overtake His adversaries.
DOERS RECEIVES BUT TARDY RECOGNITION AND
ACKNOWLEDGMENT FROM MAN. (v. 5.) The retributions have to
light upon them ere they will believe. “They cry, Peace and safety: till
sudden destruction comes upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). So has it
been in the past, and so, upon the authority of Christ, will it be in the future
(Matthew 24:27-29). Still, amidst this unconcern and unbelief, the duty
of the messenger of God is clear. He must “cry aloud.” He must bid men
“behold,” “regard,” and “wonder,” and then, “whether they hear or
forbear” (Ezekiel 2:5,7); “he has delivered his soul.”
In vs. 12-17, the prophet, in reply, beseeches the Lord not to
suffer His people to perish, seeing that He has deigned to be in covenant
with them, but to remember mercy even during the affliction at the hand of
their rapacious enemies.
12 “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.”
Habakkuk calls to mind God’s immutability and His covenant
expected. This is one ground of confidence in the corrective nature of the
chastisement. God is Jehovah, the covenant God, who has been in personal
Mine Holy One. He speaks in the person of the righteous people, and He refers to
God’s holiness as a second ground of hope, because, although God must
punish sin, He will not let the sacred nation, the chosen guardian of the
faith, perish utterly. And then he expresses this confidence: We shall not
die. We shall be chastened, but not killed. The Masorites assert that the
present reading is a correction of the scribes for “thou wilt not die,” which
the prophet wrote originally, and which was altered for reverence’ sake.
But this is a mere assumption, incapable of proof. Its adoption would be an
omission of the very consolation to which the prophet’s confidence leads.
Thou hast ordained them (him) for judgment. Thou hast appointed the
Chaldean to execute thy corrective punishment on
Others take the meaning to be — Thou hast predestined the Chaldean to be judged
and punished This is not so suitable in this place. O mighty God; Hebrew, O Rock —
an appellation applied to God, as the sure and stable Resting place and Support
of His people (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 37; Psalm 18:2, 31:3; Isaiah 17:10).
Thou hast established them (him) for correction. Thou appointedst the
Chaldean, or madest him strong, in order to correct thy people. He is, like
the Assyrian, the rod of God’s anger (Isaiah 10:5). Septuagint, Απλασέ με τοῦ
ἐλέγχειν παιδείαν αὐτοῦ - Aplase me tou elegchein paideian autou - He formed
me to prove his
instruction. This, says
prophet announcing his call and office.
The Inspiration of Hope (v.12)
Hope is the expectation of future good. The cherishing of this spirit, even
as it respects the affairs of everyday life, yields strength and courage, whilst
the centering this in the glorious realities God has revealed imparts joy and
gladness to the heart. To the man of piety hope is the helmet, serving as a
protection and defense in the day of conflict, and the anchor rendering his
spirit peaceful and secure amidst the storms of life.
ITS APPLICATION TO HIMSELF AND HIS NATION, AND NOTE
HOW THE INSPIRATION OF HOPE FIRED HIS SOUL.
Ø The seer directed his thoughts to the contemplation of the character of
his God. Two aspects of this were vividly present to his mind.
o God’s eternal duration. “Art thou not from everlasting?” (v. 12).
o His infinite purity. “Mine Holy One” (ibid.).
Ø Associated with these thoughts concerning God in the mind of the
prophet we have the recognition of the relationship sustained by this
Eternal and Holy One to Himself and the nation whose interests lay near
and pressed with such weight upon His heart. He and his people were the
chosen of Heaven. God had entered into covenant relations with them.
They had been the objects of His ever gracious care and providential
working. He had not dealt thus with any other people. They could call
Him theirs. “O Lord my God, mine Holy One” (ibid.).
Ø And by associating together these thoughts of God and of His
relationship to His people he gathered, in the troublous times upon which
he had fallen, the inspiration of hope. One great difficulty with him arose
from the threatened extinction of his nation. He had mourned over the
national guilt, and had sought earnestly in prayer the Divine interposition.
The response, however, to his impassioned cry unto God was different
from what he had expected. The revelation made to him of the ` approaching Chaldean invasion of his country seemed to carry with it the complete annihilation of the national anticipations, and the utter desolation and extinction of those who had been specially favored of God. Surely,
thought he, this cannot be. God is eternal; his purposes must be fulfilled.
Then “we shall not die” (v. 12). God is holy. Then evil cannot ultimately
be victorious. It could only be for chastisement and correction that the
threatened trials should come. “O Lord, thou hast ordained them for
judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction” (ibid.). And by such reasoning hope became the balm of healing to his troubled heart, the bow of promise cast across his
stormiest cloud, the bright star kindled in his darkest sky.
IMPORTANT BEARING UPON THE IMMORTALITY OF MAN.
Jehovah is “from everlasting.” He is “the eternal God;” hence, OUR
IMMORTAL DESTINY! “We shall not die, but live.” (Psalm 118:17)
Surely the Divine Father will not allow His children to fade away and be no more. Certainly, He whose tender love to His children the love of human parents so faintly images, will not dwell through the eternal ages and “leave himself childless when time shall such”
“Souls that of his own good life partake,
He loves as his own self; dear as his eye
They are to him; he’ll never them forsake;
When they shall die, then God Himself shall die;
They live, they live in blest eternity.”
It may be said that this reasoning, however concise and seemingly
conclusive, is after all based upon probability. We grant it, and whilst
refusing to undervalue its worth, we thankfully turn even from these
beautiful words of the noble prophet, “Art thou not from everlasting, O
Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die,” and fix our thoughts
upon the assurances, so authoritative and so certain, of THE
WORLD’S REDEEMER! “Let not your heart be troubled, ye
believe in God, believe also in me” etc. (John 14:1-8); “I am
the Resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though
he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and
believeth in me shall never die! Believest thou this?”
(John 11:25-26); “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19)
The Benefits of Life’s Adversities. (v. 12)
“O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou
hast established them for correction.” This is a second inference drawn by
the prophet. He not only inferred, from what he knew of the Divine
character, that his people should not be utterly destroyed by the adversities
which were about to overtake them — “We shall not die” — but also that
these coming judgments should be made to work for their good. “O Lord,
thou hast ordained,” etc. God’s chastisements are not directed to
the overthrow but to the salvation of those upon whom they are inflicted.
He chastens men sore, but does not give them over unto death. The dark
scenes through which the frail and erring children of men are led are
designed to contribute to their good. How? Well, they operate in various
OUR OWN WILL, BUT THAT THERE IS ONE HIGHER THAN
OURSELVES, TO WHOSE WILL WE MUST ALL BOW.
REVEALING TO US OUR PAST SHORTCOMINGS AND FAILINGS.
TEACHINGS OF GOD’S OWN SPIRIT.
OUR GOD, AND ARE THE MEANS OF RESTORING TO US THE
WARMTH AND FERVOR OF TRUE PIETY. Whilst, therefore,
suffering considered in itself is not good, yet instrumentally it is desirable,
and, if we are rightly exercised by it, will help us to attain unto a holier
and more heavenly life. So David (Psalm 119:71, 67). So Manasseh
(II Chronicles 33:11-13). It is because we are so slow to learn the lessons our
sorrows are intended to teach us that it is “through much tribulation” that
we are to enter the kingdom prepared for the saints of God. We need these
threshings of the inner spiritual man in order that the chaff may be
separated from the wheat, and we become thus prepared for the heavenly
garner. (Matthew 3:12) Let us accept all our griefs as precious tokens of the Divine Father’s love, and make them our convoy to bear us up to Him.
13 “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?” Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil
(compare v.3). God cannot look with complacency on evil (Psalm 5:5-6).
Iniquity; Septuagint, πόνους ὀδύνης – ponous odunaes - labors of pain.
Injustice and the distress occasioned by it. God’s holiness cannot endure the
sight of wickedness, nor His mercy the sight of man’s misery. And yet He
permits these evil men to afflict the holy seed. This is the prophet’s perplexity,
which he lays before the Lord. Them that deal treacherously. The Chaldeans,
so called from their faithless and rapacious conduct (Isaiah 21:2; 24:16).
More righteous. The Israelites, wicked as they were, were more righteous than
the Chaldeans (compare Ezekiel 16:51, etc.). Delitzsch and Keil think that the
persons intended are the godly portion of
“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,” etc. In this passage the
prophet refers to the eternity, the providence, and the holiness of the
Jehovah of the Jewish people.
PRESERVATION. “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, mine
Holy One? we shall not die.” However terrible and prostrating the Divine
threatenings may sound, the prophet draws consolation and hope from the
holiness of the faithful covenant God, that
the judgment will be only a severe chastisement. “Art thou not
from everlasting?” The interrogatory does not imply doubt on his part. The
true God is essentially eternal; He “inhabiteth eternity.” He is without
beginning, without succession, without end. The loftiest thoughts of the
loftiest intelligence are lost in the idea of His eternity. From His eternity the
prophet argues that His people will not perish: “We shall not die.” There is
force in this argument. His people live in Him. Their life is hid in God, and
so long as He endures they may hope to continue. Christ said to His
disciples, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19) Man’s immortality
is not in himself, but in God. If He has purposed that we shall live forever,
He is eternal, and will never change His mind or die.
“O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou
hast established them for correction.” Jehovah, for judgment thou hast
appointed it, and, O Rock, thou hast founded it for chastisement.”
Whatever evil of any kind, from any quarter, comes upon the
loyal servants of God, comes not by accident; it is under the direction of
the All-wise and the All-beneficent. These Chaldeans could not move
without Him, nor could they strike one blow without His permission; they
were but the rod in His hand. All the most furious fiends in the universe are
under His direction. He says, concerning the mighty tide of wicked
passions, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further.” (Job 38:11) Is not this
a source of comfort under suffering and oppression? Whatever mischief men design to inflict upon His people, He purposes to bring good out of it:
(Romans 8:28) and His counsel shall stand.
PERPLEXITY. “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not
look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal
treacherously, and boldest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man
that is more righteous than he?” Jehovah is the Holy One. His holiness is
essential, underived, indestructible, reflected in all consciences. He is of
“purer eyes than to behold evil.” His eyes do behold iniquity. There is no
sin that comes not within His glance. What the prophet means, I presume, is
— Thou art of “purer eyes” than to behold iniquity with satisfaction. It is
that “abominable thing” which God hates (Jeremiah 44:4). Now, this holiness was the occasion of perplexity to the prophet. As if he had said, “Since thou art
holy, why allow such abominations to take place? why permit wicked men
to work such iniquities, and to inflict such suffering upon the righteous?”
This has always been a source of perplexity to good men. That a holy God,
who has the power to prevent such iniquities, should allow them to occur,
abound, and continue, is one of the great mysteries of life.
CONCLUSION. Let us, in all our troubles, like the prophet, look to the
Everlasting One, and hold firmly the conviction that, notwithstanding the
abounding of evil in the world, He is the Holy One, and is of “purer eyes”
than to approve of wickedness,
“Courage, brother, do not stumble;
Though thy path be dark as night
There’s a star to guide the humble;
Trust in God, and do the right.
“Let the road be rough and dreary,
And its end far out of sight;
Foot it bravely, strong or weary:
Trust in God, and do the fight.
“Perish policy and cunning,
Perish all that fears the light;
Whether losing, whether winning,
Trust in God, and do the right,
“Trust no party, sect, or faction;
Trust no leaders in the fight;
But in every word and action
Trust in God, and do the right.
“Simple rule and safest guiding,
Inward peace and inward might,
Star upon our path abiding:
Trust in God, and do the right.
“Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
Some will flatter, some will slight;
Cease from man, and look above thee:
Trust in God, and do the right.”
14 “And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things,
that have no ruler over them?” The prophet appeals movingly to God by
mentioning the indignity with which the people are treated. As the fishes of the sea.
Dumb and helpless, swept off by the fisherman. That have no ruler ever them.
None to guide and protect them (compare Proverbs 6:7; 30:27). So the Jews seem
to be deprived of God’s care, and left to be the prey of the spoiler, as if of
little worth, and no longer having God for their King (compare Isaiah 63:19,
Revised Version). The “creeping things” are worms, or small fish (Psalm 104:25).
15 “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.” They take up all men with the angle; he bringeth up all
together with the hook (Amos 4:2) The net. Any kind of net.
Septuagint, ἄμφίβληστνον - amphiblaestnon - cast net.” The drag (σαγήνη –
sagaenae - dragnet). At their own pleasure, unhindered, the Chaldeans make
whole nations their prey, their fishing implements being their armies, with which
they gather unto themselves countries, peoples, and booty.
16 “Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their
drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.”
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net. This is spoken metaphorically,
implying that the Babylonians recognized not God’s hand, but attributed
their success to the means which they employed (compare v.11; Isaiah 10:13 etc.).
There is no trace in the monuments of the Chaldeans paying divine honors to
their weapons, as, according to Herodotus (4:62), the Scythians and other nations
did (see Justin, ‘Hist.,’ 43:3). What a man trusts in becomes a god to him.
Their portion is fat; his portion is rich. He gains great wealth. Their
meat plenteous; his meat dainty. He is prosperous and luxurious.
The Pride of Human Sufficiency (v.12)
The reference is to the Chaldeans. They would, in due course, invade
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. (v. 16). They would be lifted up with the pride of human
THE PERMISSION OF GOD.
Ø 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 labor. 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” (I 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
Ø Spiritual success is also thus gained. In holy service we are but the
instruments employed by God. The power is His, and the honor 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 honor is due to a pen?”
THE SUCCESS ACHIEVED, BECOME ELATED WITH THE PRIDE
OF HUMAN SUFFICIENCY. “Therefore they sacrifice unto their net,”
etc. (v. 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
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
Franco-German 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
to forms and ceremonies, to worldly alliances, to machinery and
organization, as though these were the great essentials, and far too little of
the hills whence cometh her help. (Psalm 121:1-2)
Ø It reveals self-ignorance. For no one who really understands himself
could possibly cherish this spirit.
Ø 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.
Ø 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” (Proverbs 3:6) and as we prosper in our course
ascribe the success gained to HIS FAVOR 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.”
17 “Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to
slay the nations?” Shall they therefore empty their net? Because they have had
this career of rapine and conquest, shall God allow them to continue it?
Shall they be permitted to be continually emptying their net in order to fill
it again? The idea is that they carried off their booty and captives and
secured them in their own territory, and then set out on new expeditions to
acquire fresh plunder. The question is answered in the next chapter, where
the judgment on the Chaldeans is pronounced. And not spare continually
to slay the nations? And cease not to send forth his armies and to found
his empire in the blood of conquered nations. The Septuagint and Vulgate
have no interrogation, the assertion being made by way of expostulation.
The Triumph of Faith (vs. 12-17)
Ø Eternal. From everlasting Psalm 93:2), and therefore to everlasting
(ibid. ch. 90:1); hence immutable (Malachi 3:6), without variableness
or shadow cast by turning (James 1:17), in respect of His being
(I Timothy 1:17), character (Isaiah 63:16; Psalm 111:3), purpose
(Job 23:13), and promise (Hebrews 6:17).
Ø Holy. In Himself the absolutely and the only stainless One (Exodus
15:11; Isaiah 6:3), and in all His self-manifestations (Job 34:10), in
His ways and works (Psalm 145:17) as well as words (Psalm 33:4),
equally immaculate, and necessarily so, since an unholy Divinity could not
be supreme, He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil,” and “cannot look
upon iniquity” with indifference, and far less with favour (Psalm 5:4;
Ø Omniscient. Inferred from the fact that He beheld all the evil that was
done beneath the sun, both in
the nations by the Chaldeans (v. 13). Omniscience a necessary attribute
of the Supreme, and one much emphasized in Scripture (Proverbs 15:3;
Job 28:24; II Chronicles 16:9; Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13).
Ø Omnipotent. This implied in His supremacy over the nations, raising up
one power (the Chaldeans) and putting down another (
peoples into Nebuchadnezzar’s net, and again hurling down
Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson from his seat of power. Also suggested by the
designation “Rock,” given Him by Habakkuk, who meant thereby to teach
the strength and steadfastness of Jehovah in comparison with the idols of
the heathen, and His ability to shelter and defend those who trusted in Him (Deuteronomy 32:4,15,18,30-31, 37; [I highly recommend Acts 17 Dwight Moody Sermon – The Great Redemption – this website –
CY – 2015] Psalm 18:2; 28:1; 31:3, etc.).
Ø Gracious. He was such a God as had entered into covenant with the
prophet, who accordingly styled Him “my God,” “mine Holy One.” “My” is faith’s response to God’s grace in offering Himself to man as a God
Ø A great mystery.
o Concerning Judah. Why God, being what He was, from everlasting, holy, etc., should suffer His people, who with all their faults were more righteous than their oppressors, to be trodden down, butchered, and driven off into captivity by the Chaldeans! Why, when He saw them humiliated and destroyed, He held His peace! Strange inconsistency of the human heart, especially when touched by grace. A little before (v. 3) the prophet had
been concerned at God’s silence about the wickedness of Judah; now, when God has spoken of raising up against that wickedness the Chaldean army, he is troubled that God should allow such cruelty to be perpetrated against the people of whom he had complained.
o Concerning the Chaldeans. Why God, being what He was, unchangeably pure and just as well as resistlessly powerful, should permit the heathen warrior to work such havoc among the nations of the earth, to practice such deception towards and cruelty, against them (v.13), to angle them up like fishes out of the sea or catch them in His net (v. 15), to deprive them of their heads by carrying away their kings, and so to make them like the finny tribes that have no rulers over them (v. 14); and not only so, but
to exult in his conquests and depredations, as if these were exclusively the result of his own power and skill; to “sacrifice unto his net, and burn incense unto his drag” (v. 16), thus making might his god (v. 11), and practically deifying himself.
Ø An old problem. Habakkuk’s perplexity was the same which from time
immemorial has troubled thoughtful men, the dark enigma of providence
— why good men should so frequently be crushed by misfortune, and
wicked men so often crowned with prosperity. This mystery was a source
of anxiety to Job (12:6; 21:7-13), David (Psalm 17:14-15), Asaph (Psalm 73:1-13), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:1), the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 7:15; 8:14), in the olden times; has caused much stumbling to good men since, and probably will do so while the world lasts.
Ø A valuable discipline. Distressing as this mystery is, it is nevertheless
not without its uses to such as are exercised thereby. It assists them to
understand the sovereignty of God, that He giveth not account of any of His matters (Job 33:13); to realize their own limited and imperfect vision,
which can only see in part, not in whole (Job 37:21; I Corinthians 13:9), only the middle and neither the beginning nor the end of God’s work in providence; to cultivate those virtues of patience, humility, trustfulness,
which are essential elements in all true goodness (Psalm 37:3-5); and to
seek their portion in God Himself (Psalm 16:5) rather than in earthly
things (Psalm 17:14), in the future world rather than in the present life
Ø Concerning the righteous.
o Jehovah being what He is, it was impossible His people should be
either cut or cast off. Habakkuk argued that Judah could not perish — “We shall not die” — because God lived and was holy. Jehovah sustained the argument by answering, in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord,! change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed;” and Christ acknowledged its validity when He said to His disciple, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). This implies not exemption from physical suffering or death, as doubtless many Judaeans perished in the Chaldean conquest, but protection from that future and eternal death which is the last penalty of
unrepented and unforgiven sin. This the main consolation of a believer under suffering, that his covenant God hath said, “My mercy will I keep for him forevermore” (Psalm 89:28), and that Christ hath declared, “My sheep shall never perish” (John 10:28).
o This being so, their sufferings must be designed only for their
correction, not for their destruction, and accordingly should be regarded rather as fatherly chastisements than as penal inflictions. Habakkuk perceived that the Chaldean had been “ordained for judgment” and “raised up for correction,” not commissioned for extermination. So the Christian discerns that “tribulation worketh patience,” etc. (Romans 5:3); that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding, EVEN AN ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY” (II Corinthians 4:17); that present chastisements are intended for our future profit, “that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10), and that they might yield to us “the peaceable fruits of righteousness” (ibid v. 11); and in short, that suffering is the royal road to moral and spiritual perfection (ibid. 2:10).
Ø Concerning the wicked. Jehovah being what He is, the wicked cannot be
allowed to go on always as they are. “Shall he,” the Chaldean, “therefore
empty his net” to fill it again? Is this process of angling and dragging for
men and nations to go on forever? Shall he “not spare to slay the nations
continually “? the prophet asks; meaning by the question, “No, verily, this
must come to an end.” And those who have reflected deepest on the
problem have perceived that, at the longest, THE TRIUMPH OF THE
WICKED IS SHORT! (Job 20:5; Psalm 37:35-36; 73:18-20), and that their experience of prosperity, however long it may be, will only in the end aggravate their misery, unless before the end they repent of their
wickedness, and turn to God in faith, humility, love, and righteousness.
“The immortal gods,” wrote Julius Caesar, in his ‘Gallic War’ (1:14), “are
accustomed, the more heavily to pain by reverse of fortune those of whom
for their wickedness they wish to be avenged, to grant to them in the mean
while a larger sham of prosperity and a longer period of impunity.”
Ø That the good man’s best comfort in affliction and stay in adversity is
THE CHARACTER OF GOD! (Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 52:21;
II Corinthians 1:3).
Ø That with God silence is not to be understood as equivalent to consent
Ø That it is God’s custom to make men reap as they have sown, to reward
perverseness with perverseness, and iniquity with iniquity (Psalm18:26; Matthew 7:2; Galatians 6:7).
Ø That governments tend to the good order of society, and are to be
respected and obeyed even when not perfect (Romans 13:1-2).
That the reign of wickedness will one day terminate (Psalm 145:20;
I Corinthians 15:25).
Rapacious Selfishness in Power (vs. 14-17)
“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,” etc. In Nebuchadnezzar you have rapacious selfishness in power.
He is here represented by implication as treating the Jewish people as a
fisherman treats the fish in the sea. His aim is to catch them by “angle,”
“net,” and “drag,” and turn them to his own vile use. These figures are not
to be interpreted with such speciality 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 Chaldeans
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
and gold, interest and rent of all the world. In these verses we
have a specimen of rapacious selfishness in power. Selfishness is the root
and essence of sin. All unregenerate men are therefore more or less selfish,
and rapacity is an instinct of selfishness. Selfishness hungers for the things
of others. Whilst this rapacious selfishness is general, mercifully it is not
always in power, otherwise the world would be more of a pandemonium
than it is. It is ever tyrannic and ruthless in the measure of its power. Here
we find it in the power of an absolute monarchy, and it is terrible to
contemplate. Four things are suggested.
“And makest man as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have
no ruler over them.” The Babylonian tyrant did not see in the population of
invested with rights and responsibilities similar to his own fellow men, but
merely “fishes;” his object was to catch them and turn them to his own use.
It is ever so with selfishness: it blinds man to the claims of his brother.
What does the selfish landlord care for the man in the tenants and laborers
on his estate? He only values them as they can subserve his interests. What
does the selfish employer care for the man in those who work in his service
and build up his fortune? He treats them rather as fishes to be used than as
brethren to be respected. What does the selfish despot care for the moral
humanity of the people over whom he sways his scepter? He values them
only as they can fight his battles, enrich his bank account, and contribute
to his pageantry and pomp. What were men to Alexander? What were men to
“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.” Thus they
take up all of them, some with the hook one by one, others in shoals as in a
net, others in a drag or enclosed net. Ah me! Human life is like a sea —
deep, unresting, treacherous; and the teeming millions of men are but as
fishes, the weaker devoured by the stronger.
“… the good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.”
The mighty ones use the hook to oppress individuals one by one, the net
and the drag to carry multitudes away. To a rapacious selfishness in power
the man is lost in the laborer, the clerk, the employe, the sailor, the
soldier, the subject, etc. Men, what are they? To its eye they are goods,
chattels, beasts of burden, “fishes” — nothing more. As the fisherman
works by various expedients to catch the fish, the selfish man in power is
ever active in devising the best expedients to turn human flesh to his own
they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by
them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.” They glory even in
their crimes, because these result in success. They admire their own
dexterity and prowess. The selfish man says to himself, “My power and the
might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17).
According to the measure of a man’s selfishness is his propensity to
self-worship. (Is not this the base of the “secular humanist” of the
21st century? – CY – 2015) The more selfish a merchant, a scholar,
a religionist, an author, a preacher, etc., is, the more prone to praise
himself for his imaginary success. Because men are everywhere selfish,
they are everywhere “sacrificing unto their net, and burning incense unto
their drag.” The selfish statesman says, “There is no measure like mine;” the selfish sectarian, “There is no Church like mine;” the selfish author, “There
is no book like mine;” the selfish preacher, “There is no sermon like mine.”
“To our own nets ne’er bow we down,
Lest on the eternal shore
The angels, while our draught they own,
Reject us evermore.”
PROSPERITY, “Shall they therefore empty their net?” etc. An old author
thus paraphrases the language: “Shall they enrich themselves and fill their
own vessels with that which they have by violence and oppression taken
away from their neighbors? Shall they empty their net of what they have
caught, that they may cast it into the sea again to catch more? And wilt
thou suffer them to proceed in this wicked course? Shall they not spare
continually to slay the nations? Must the number and wealth of nations be
sacrificed to their net?”
CONCLUSION. What an awful picture of the world we have here! All
unregenerate men are selfish. Men are everywhere preying on men; and,
alas! often those who most lament the universal selfishness are the most
selfish. Like the ravenous birds which seem to bewail the sheep when
dying, they are ready to pick out their eyes when their opportunity comes.
“Where every man is for himself,” says an old author, “the devil will have
all.” This selfishness is the heart of stone in humanity, which must be
exchanged for a heart of flesh, or the man will be damned. What but the
gospel can effect this change? Oh that those who call themselves Christians
would cherish and exemplify that disinterestedness which alone gives title
to the name! “I would so live,” said Seneca, “as if I knew I had received
my being only for the benefit of others.”
"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.
Materials are reproduced by permission."
This material can be found at:
If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.