|The Book of Habakkuk|
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Go to Bible: Habakkuk 1
“burden.” The word of the Lord can be a burden to the prophet, and then, when it is spoken, can be a burden to the people. It might have been more clear in the English to say “burdensome message” instead of “burden,” but the Hebrew word is “burden.” [For more information on “burden,” see commentary on Malachi 1:1].
“saw.” God gives revelation to people in different ways, and one of those ways is via a vision or vision with sound (Acts 10:9-13). That is the way that God gave the revelation of the future to Habakkuk; a vision with sound and dialogue. [For more on revelation and how it is received, see commentary on Gal. 1:12).(top)
“Yahweh, how long will I cry out.” The book of Habakkuk starts out with Habakkuk talking to God, but the dialogue goes back and forth, changing without warning, so the reader has to pay close attention to the context. God answers Habakkuk starting in Habakkuk 1:5, and then in Habakkuk 1:12 the prophet begins to speak back to God again, which continues to the end of the chapter.(top)
|Hab 1:3||- (top)|
“surround.” The idea is that the wicked surround the righteous and intimidate them (cp. NET, “intimidate”), to the end that justice is not carried out. To the righteous, the wicked seem everywhere, and they threaten in such a way that the righteous feel they have no way out of the situation except to do what the wicked suggest. That righteous people are intimidated into not standing up for what is right is an ongoing problem. Habakkuk encountered it some 2,600 years ago.(top)
“Look among the nations.” Here in Habakkuk 1:5, God begins to speak back to Habakkuk (see commentary on Hab. 1:2). The imperative verbs in Habakkuk 1:5 are plural, so they are meant for the entire nation of Israel, not just for Habakkuk. The entire nation of Judah is to pay attention to what God is doing. Their coming destruction is due to their continued sin and unwillingness to repent and obey God. The plural is hard to bring out in English.(top)
“Chaldeans.” Strictly speaking, “Chaldea” (sometimes “Chaldaea”) was the area on the north-west end of the Persian gulf, but especially since a number of Babylonian kings came from Chaldea, the name “Chaldea” was often used for the whole of Babylonia, and that is the case in Habakkuk.(top)
“They are dreaded.” The Hebrew text is singular, “He is dreaded” (we could also translate the phrase as “it is dreaded”), portraying the Babylonian army as unified as one person or one unit. This use of the singular for the Babyonians continues on in the chapter.(top)
|Hab 1:8||- (top)|
“They gather.” The Hebrew text is “He gathers” (we could also translate the phrase as “it gathers”), portraying the Babylonian army as unified as one person or one unit. This continues on in the chapter.(top)
“build up an earthen ramp.” The Hebrew is more literally, “they pile up dirt,” but the reference is to the building of siege ramps by piling up huge amounts of dirt and rock, so we have followed the pattern of many other versions and nuanced the text for ease of understanding. Without a knowledge of ancient warfare, the reader might not know why piling up dirt was a way to conquer a city. Building earthen siege ramps was a common way that ancient walled cities were taken, and it is described in many ancient texts. Also, there are remains of them from the ancient world. One very good example is the siege ramp the Roman army built so they could conquer the Jewish fortress of Masada.(top)
|Hab 1:11||- (top)|
“Are you not.” Here in Habakkuk 1:12 the dialogue shifts back to Habakkuk speaking back to God (see commentary on Hab. 1:2).
“We will not die.” Habakkuk hears what God is saying—that the Babylonians are coming to attack Judah—and he does not comprehend it, just as God had said he wouldn’t in Habakkuk 1:5. We can understand that Habakkuk would have a hard time comprehending why God could not somehow find a way to protect His people, His holy city Jerusalem, and His temple, and not see them destroyed. At this point in the narrative, Habakkuk believes that God would protect His people so the Babylonians would not kill them, and therefore says, “we will not die.” But the people of Judah had turned from God, and He could not protect them from the consequences of their sin. The Babylonian attack was terrible. Thousands died as the Babylonians destroyed the cities of Judah, killed, raped, pillaged, and eventually burned Jerusalem and God’s temple to the ground.
We must not prooftext this sentence, “We will not die,” and try to make it mean that people never really die. That is not the context of what Habakkuk was saying. We must not get fooled into believing the first lie the Devil ever told, ‘You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). People do die, and are dead in every way, awaiting the resurrection and their judgment by God. [For more on the fact that dead people are really dead, and that their soul does not live on, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on the soul, and that it does not live on after a person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul’”].(top)
|Hab 1:13||- (top)|
“Why.” The “why” comes from the previous verse, Habakkuk 1:13, which did not have to end but could continue on with this verse. A number of versions do that (cp. ASV; ERV; JPS; YLT). The NASB adds the “why,” as the REV does, and has, “Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, Like creeping things without a ruler over them?” Some other versions add “why” as well (cp. NJB). Nevertheless, many versions do not see the need for the “why” and simply say “You make mankind like the fish of the sea” (ESV), but to us it seems more that Habakkuk is asking why God has created people the way He did rather than making a statement to God about the nature of mankind as a whole.(top)
“The Chaldeans.” The Hebrew text has “he,” (or “it”) referring to the Babylonians (here called Chaldeans), referring to the nation as a single “he,” which is confusing in English (see commentary on Habakkuk 1:7). The REV does not normally substitute the proper noun for the pronoun, but in this case the “he” could be so confusing in the context that we opted to put in the proper noun, as did some other versions (cp. HCSB; GWN; NASB; NET; NRSV).(top)
|Hab 1:16||- (top)|
“Will they therefore continually empty their net.” This verse ends the chapter and is an indirect challenge to God. Habakkuk is distressed that the Babylonians attack and conquer nation after nation, enriching themselves with booty and captives, and now they are about to attack Judah, so he asks God if He will allow this behavior to continue on and on. If God answered, “No,” then Habakkuk would obviously assert that if God was going to stop the evil Babylonians at some point, why not stop them before they attacked Judah.(top)