The Word of the Lord to Habakkuk

Chapter 1

To Habakkuk, complaining of the iniquity of the land, 1-4, is shown the fearful vengeance by the Chaldeans, 5-11. He complains that vengeance should be executed by those who are far worse, 12-17.

1 [The burden which Habakkuk the prophet saw.]

2 O LORD, how long shall I cry and you will not hear? I even cry out to you of violence, and you will not save!

3 Why do you show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance? For devastation and violence are before me. And there is strife, and contention rises up.

4 Therefore, the law is slackened, and judgment never goes forth. For the wicked encompasses the righteous; therefore, perverted justice proceeds.

5 "Behold among the heathen and regard. Wonder and be astonished. For I will work a work in your days which you will not believe though it is told to you.

6 For behold, 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.

7 They are terrible and dreadful. Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed from themselves.

8 Their horses are also 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 hastes to devour.

9 They shall all come for violence. Their faces shall swallow up the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.

10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn to them. They shall deride every stronghold, for they shall heap dust and take it.

11 Then his mind shall change and he shall pass over and offend, imputing his power to his god."

12 Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, you have ordained them for judgment. And O mighty God, you have established them for correction.

13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look at iniquity. Why do you look upon those who deal treacherously, and keep silence when the wicked devours the man who is more righteous than he is?

14 You make men as the fish of the sea, as the creeping animals that have no ruler over them.

15 They take up all of them with the hook, they catch them in their net and gather them in their dragnet; therefore, they rejoice and are glad.

16 Therefore, they sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their dragnet, because by them their portion is fat and their food plenteous.

17 Shall they therefore empty their net and not spare to slay the nations continually?


Matthew Henry Commentary - Habakkuk, Chapter 1


John Gill's Chapter Summary:

In this chapter, after the inscription, in which are the title of the book, the name and character of the writer (verse 1); there is a complaint made by the prophet of his cry not being heard, and of salvation being deferred, which was long expected (verse 2); and of the wickedness of the times he lived in; of iniquity and trouble, rapine and oppression, in general; and particularly of corruption in courts of judicature, in which there were nothing but strife and contention, a procrastination in proceedings at law, and justice was stopped and suppressed (verses 3-4); then follows an answer to this, showing that some sore judgment, amazing and incredible, would soon be executed for such sins (verse 5); that the Chaldeans would be raised up and sent against the Jews, and spoil them, and carry them captive; who are described by the cruelty of their temper and disposition; by the swiftness and fierceness of their cavalry; and by their derision of kings, princes, and strong holds; and by their victories and success, which they should impute to their idols (verses 6-11); and then the prophet, in the name of the church, expresses his faith that the people of God, and his interest, would be preserved, and not perish in this calamity; which is urged from the eternity, holiness, faithfulness, and power of God, and from his design in this affliction, which was correction, and not destruction (verse 12); and the chapter is closed with an expostulation of the prophet with God, in consideration of his purity and holiness; how he could bear with such a wicked nation as the Chaldeans, and suffer them to devour men as fishes, in an arbitrary way, that have no ruler; catch them in their net, and insult them, and ascribe all to their own power and prudence, and think to go on continually in this way (verses 13-17).

[v.1a] - "the burden" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "The greater part of interpreters refer this burden to the Chaldeans and the monarchy of Babylon; but of this view I do not approve, and a good reason compels me to dissent from their opinion: for as the Prophet addresses the Jews, and without any addition calls his prophecy a burden, there is no doubt but that he refers to them. Besides, their view seems wholly inconsistent, because the Prophet dreads the future devastation of the land, and complains to God for allowing His chosen and elect people to be so cruelly treated. What others think is more correct—that this burden belonged to the Jews... Habakkuk then reproves here his own nation, and shows that they had in vain disdainfully resisted all God's prophets, for they would at length find that their threatening would be accomplished. The burden, then, which the Prophet Habakkuk saw, was this—That God, after having exercised long forbearance toward the Jews, would at length be the punisher of their many sins."

[v.1b] - "Habakkuk" - From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: "From a Hebrew root meaning to 'embrace,' denoting a 'favorite' (namely, of God) and a 'struggler' (for his country's good)."

[v.4] - "perverted" - Or, "wrested."

[v.5a] - "Behold among the heathen" - The Greek Septuagint renders this phrase, "Behold, you despisers." The Apostle Paul follows the Greek rendering.

[v.5b] - Quoted in Acts 13:41.

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 1-6:

Grant, Almighty God, that as our sins cry continually to heaven, each of us may turn to repentance, and by condemning ourselves of our own accord may anticipate your judgement, and thus stir up ourselves to repentance, that being received into favor, we may find you, whom we have provoked to take vengeance, to be indeed our Father: and may we be so preserved by you in this world, that having at length put off all our vices, we may attain to that perfection of purity, to which you invite us; and thus lead us more and more to yourself by your Spirit, and separate us from the corruptions of this world, that we may glorify you before men, and be at last made partakers of that celestial glory which has been purchased for us by the blood of your only-begotten Son. Amen.

[v.9] - "Their faces shall swallow up the east wind" - This can also be read as, "Their faces shall look toward the east."

[v.11] - An alternate rendering of this verse could be, "Then he shall sweep by as a wind (or, shall renew courage), and shall pass over (or, pass through), and be guilty, even he whose might is his god."

[v.12a] - "mighty God" - Literally, "Rock," as in Deuteronomy 32:4, 18, 30-31.

[v.12b] - "We shall not die" - In other words, "We shall not be destroyed," that is, the people as a nation would not be destroyed because they were under the protection of God. From John Calvin's Commentary: "No power of the world, nor any of its defenses, can indeed afford us this security; for whatever forces may all mortals bring either to protect or help us, they shall all perish together with us. Hence, the protection of God alone is that which can deliver us from the danger of death. We now perceive why the Prophet joins together these two things, 'You are our God,' and 'We shall not die;' nor can indeed the one be separated from the other; for when we are under the protection of God, we must necessarily continue safe and safe forever; not that we shall be free from evils, but that the Lord will deliver us from a thousand deaths, and ever preserve our life in safety."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 7-12:

Grant, Almighty God, that since you set around us so many terrors, we may know that we ought to be roused, and to resist the sloth and tardiness of our flesh, so that you may fortify us by a different confidence: and may we so recumb on your aid, that we may boldly triumph over our enemies, and never doubt, but that you will at length give us the victory over all the assaults of Satan and of the wicked; and may we also so look to you, that our faith may wholly rest on that eternal and immutable covenant, which has been confirmed for us by the blood of your only Son, until we shall at length be united to him who is our head, after having passed through all the miseries of the present life, and having been gathered into that eternal inheritance, which your Son has purchased for us by his own blood. Amen.

[v.14-15] - John Owen provided an interesting explanation of these two verses. He said, "The representation here is, that every means would be employed: men being compared to fishes, some are set forth as creeping along the bottom, and others as swimming at large at all depths; and then the fisherman, the Chaldean comes, and draws out the first by a fishing-hook, and the rest by a net and a dragnet; so that he takes them all."

[v.16] - "they sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet" - That is, they are ascribing their success to their own skill and efforts.

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 13-17:

Grant, Almighty God, that as it cannot be but that, owing to the infirmity of our flesh, we must be shaken and tossed here and there by the many turbulent commotions of this world,— O grant, that our faith may be sustained by this support—that you are the governor of the world, and that men were not only once created by you, but are also preserved by your hand, and that you are also a just judge, so that we may duly restrain ourselves; and though we must often have to bear many insults, let us yet never fail, until our faith shall become victorious over all trials, and until we, having passed through continued succession of contests, shall at length reach that celestial rest, which Christ your Son has obtained for us. Amen.