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2. Habakkuk

Introduction to Habakkuk

Historical Context


Taken at face value Habakkuk’s short prophecy is set in a time of national upheaval characterized by gross social injustice (1:2-4) and by the imminent advent of the Babylonians (Chaldeans) as the foremost international power (1:5-11). Accordingly evangelical commentators have opted for a preexilic setting that antedates the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Three main positions have been articulated among such scholars. (1) The majority (e.g., Archer, Freeman, Hailey, R. K. Harrison, Hummel, E. J. Young) date the prophecy to the time of Jehoiakim, whose godless disposition (2 Kings 24:1-3; Jer. 26; 36) occasioned prophetic utterances of condemnation together with the threat of a Babylonian invasion (Jer. 25). (2) Others (e.g., Bullock, Laetsch, Pusey, Unger) decide for a date in the reign of Josiah before the finding of a copy of the law in 621 B.C. They argue that the desperate moral conditions denounced by Habakkuk could well be reflective of that period (cf. Jer. 1-6) and relate Habakkuk’s prediction of the coming Chaldeans to the transitional nature of the period near the end of the Neo-Assyrian era. (3) Still others (e.g., Keil) defend a date in the time of Judah’s most wicked king, Manasseh.228 They cite the degraded moral and spiritual level of that time (2 Kings 21:1-16; 2 Chron. 33:1-10), an era whose debauchery was so pronounced that it drew God’s declaration that He would effect a total “disaster on Jerusalem and Judah” (2 Kings 21:12).

A seventh-century date for Habakkuk’s prophecy has by no means carried the day among nonevangelical scholars. The setting of the book has been variously assigned to dates between the ninth century B.C. and the Maccabean period. Complicating the question of the book’s setting is the matter of its composition and compilation (see Literary Features).

An early rabbinic tradition speculated that Habakkuk was the son of the Shunammite woman who lived in the days of Elisha and King Jehoram of Israel (852-841 B.C.; cf. 2 Kings 4:16). At the other end of the spectrum, Paul Haupt decided for the Maccabean era, dating it to a time shortly after Judas Maccabeus’s victory over Nicanor in 161 B.C.

Most critical scholars have suggested a date that more clearly reflects the apparent subject of the prophecy, the Chaldeans of the Neo-Babylonian era. These may be conveniently catalogued into those who favor a preexilic period and those who prefer a later period. Among the former may be cited Budde and Eissfeldt, who date Habakkuk to the later reign of Josiah (c. 625-612 B.C.). The reign of Jehoiakim (608-597 B.C.) is favored by such scholars as Albright, Bewer, Humbert, Nielsen, and von Rad. An exilic date is supported by many, including Giesebrecht, Lods, Sellin, and Wellhausen, all of whom, however, isolate certain portions of the book as being earlier prophetic material that was utilized by the author/compiler of the prophecies, who lived in the latter half of the seventh century B.C.229 More radical is the view of B. Duhm (followed by C. C. Torrey) that the book has a fourth-century provenience. Duhm relates the book’s message to the campaigning of Alexander the Great and sees in the reference to the Kasdîm in 1:6 a corruption of Kittîm, a term used to designate Cypriots or Greeks in general. He also conjectures that the word “wine” in 2:5 (yayin) should be read as “Greek” ( ya„wa„n). Interestingly enough, 1QpHap also interprets the Kasdîm of 1:6 as Kittîm, although the term probably meant the Romans.230 Contrary to Duhm’s speculation, however, the text of the Habakkuk scroll actually reads Kasdîm even while interpreting it as Kittîm.

In the face of such diversity of opinion, final certainty as to the setting of this prophecy is elusive. The book is related to a time of internal wickedness in Judah and to an era anticipating the rise of the Neo-Babylonian empire. These factors suggest a preexilic setting. A key factor in the discussion is the precise force of 1:5-6 (q.v.). Although the case is far from settled, it seems that these data will have their fullest force if one holds to either (1) the position that sees the events described as taking place in the early period of Josiah’s rule or (2) the older Jewish view that locates Habakkuk in the time of Manasseh.

Perhaps the latter suggestion has the most to commend it, particularly if it can be demonstrated that both Zephaniah and Jeremiah knew and utilized Habakkuk’s prophecy (cf. Hab. 1:8 with Jer. 4:13; 5:6; Hab. 2:10 with Jer. 51:58; Hab. 2:12 with Jer. 22:13-17; Hab. 2:20 with Zeph. 1:7). According to this scenario, because Manasseh was carried away into captivity in the later part of his reign and subsequently repented and initiated several religious reforms, a date for the book shortly before the western campaigns of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria in 652 B.C. and thereafter would not be far from wrong. So understood, the book’s setting is the same basic time period as that of Nahum, an era of great internal wickedness in Judah, a period denoted externally as the Pax Assyriaca, an age that antedates the rise of the predicted instrument of divine chastening, the Chaldeans, by a full generation.231


Even though the traditional setting of the book and its literary integrity can be defended with some degree of certainty,232 the identity of the prophet Habakkuk remains a mystery. Some have sought his identity in proposed etymologies. Thus, by relating his name to the Assyrian plant called the h¬ambaqu„„qu and by noting certain literary data in 2:2, Reiser theorizes that Habakkuk had been educated in Nineveh. A relationship with the root חָבַק ( h£a„baq) “embrace” has occasioned the suggestion that Elisha gave the promise to the Shunammite who was Habakkuk’s mother that “about this time next year you will embrace a son” (2 Kings 4:16). The first suggestion is specious at best and the second is historically impossible.233 So also is the LXX tradition found in the title to the first century B.C. additions to Daniel entitled Bel and the Dragon that Habakkuk was the “son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi.”234 Equally improbable is the conjecture, accomplished by relating Hab. 2:1 with Isa. 21:6, that “watchman” Habakkuk is Isaiah’s prophetic successor.

The later Jews were fascinated with Habakkuk not only because of his unusual name but because of his questioning of God,235 together with the recording of the divine denunciation of the Chaldeans. In addition to the above mentioned case of Bel and the Dragon (which in one LXX tradition depicts Habakkuk as a Levite prophet whom the angel of the Lord lifted up by the hair to bring him with a bowl of boiled pottage to Daniel, who had been thrown into the lions’ den),236 preserved among the Dead Sea scrolls is a commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk (1QpHab). Written in pesher style, it proceeds by quoting a small portion of the text of Habakkuk followed by the author’s comments on the quoted material in the light of current events. Neither of these sources helps to identify Habakkuk further than confirming his prophetic status. Some, however, have seen in the identification of Habakkuk as “the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi” a later historical confirmation of possible Levitical associations, a relationship hinted at in the musical notations in Habakkuk 3.

Was Habakkuk, then, a Levite?237 Was he at least a prophet of the cultus, as many (e.g., Humbert, Lindblom) confidently affirm?238 Though the scriptural evidence indicates that Levites functioned in a musical ministry in the Temple (1 Chron. 6:31-48; 15:16-24; 16:4-6, 37, 41-42; 23:5; 25:1-8), a fact that accords well with the musical notations in chap. 3, and although the Scriptures attest the existence of prophets who were also priests (e.g., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah),239 a lack of proof makes it impossible to say more than that Habakkuk was a prophet who likely lived in Judah in the seventh century B.C. and who was burdened by what he perceived to be the divine indifference to the moral decay and spiritual apostasy that surrounded him (1:2-4). Nevertheless, these concerns reveal a great deal about Habakkuk the man. He was a person of deep spiritual longings that included a high view of God’s essential power, dignity, and worth as well as of the basic importance of God’s moral standards for mankind. He had a righteous hatred for sin and the resultant personal immorality and social breakdown that it caused. He was a man who was secure enough in his own spiritual condition not only to lay before his God some hard questions that perplexed him but also to respond in humility and submissiveness when those concerns were answered. In the final analysis, Habakkuk was one whose trust in God could triumph through times of testing and questioning and could find God Himself to be sufficient for life’s experiences (3:16-18).

Literary Context

Literary Features

The central focus of Habakkuk’s prophecy is on the relation of a sovereign and holy God to a sinful world, where society is permeated by godlessness and injustice. That theme becomes apparent in its development in the perplexities (1:2-4, 12-17), petitions (3:2b), remarks (2:1; 3:2a, 16-18), and praises (3:3-15) of the prophet as well as in the divine responses (1:5-11; 12-20). Assuredly the truth of God’s sovereign and just supervision of the affairs of the ages and all people according to His wise and holy purposes, directing them to their appointed end, flows through Habakkuk’s prophecies. Indeed, it is this realization that gives the book a proper perspective. The theme of divine teleology is implied in the prophet’s perplexities (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1) and God’s replies (1:5-11; 2:2-20), where it is deliberated and defended, and also in the prophet’s affirmation (3:2a) and rehearsal of God’s greatness (3:3-15) and closing note of praise (3:16-19), where it is demonstrated and applied. Accordingly the book’s theme must always be read in the light of its theological orientation.

The theme can be seen immediately in the prophet’s opening characterization of the state of affairs in his day. Habakkuk can understand neither the gross sin of Judah nor God’s seeming indifference to the rampant corruption he sees all around him (1:2-4).

The theme continues as Habakkuk’s initial statement of perplexity is followed by the recording of God’s answer to his dilemma. Much to Habakkuk’s amazement, God is about to judge Judah’s sin by sending the Chaldeans, a ferocious, vicious people (1:5-11). The theme next faces a test as to its equity. God’s answer to Habakkuk’s problem only raises a second question: How could a holy God use as an instrument of chastisement a nation that was even more wicked than Judah? For God to do so would be like making all people (including Judahites) defenseless sea creatures that fishermen (the Chaldeans) gleefully take up in their nets (conquests). Further, because such fishermen know no god but their net, how could God’s holy purposes be realized? Still further, since God Himself was sending them, how could they ever be stopped (1:12-2:1)?

The book’s theme finds further development in 2:2-20 as Habakkuk reveals not only God’s reply to his perplexity but also some important principles of divine government. God first instructs Habakkuk to “write down the revelation,” for His answer will transcend the local and temporal bounds of Habakkuk’s concern (2:2-3). The Lord next puts forward the principles upon which His answer will be based—namely, that one of the purposes of His ordering of the government of earth’s history is that both classes of men—the righteous and the unrighteous—may be seen in clear distinction. Not only in Judah but also everywhere else the righteous one “will live by his faith(fulness)” and the unrighteous one will perish in his godless greed (2:4-5).

The rest of the chapter is concerned with an application of these principles to the case of the Chaldeans (2:5), the bulk of it being devoted to a description of the causes for which the unrighteous Chaldeans will themselves be judged (2:6-20). Behind the changing scenes of the stage of earth’s activities the author of the drama of earth’s history is directing all things to their just and appointed end. Accordingly all people are admonished to “be silent” before Him who alone is God and is “in His holy Temple” (2:20).

The theme of the book finds illustration and application in the closing chapter (3). To the double answer of God to Habakkuk’s perplexities there is first appended a further divine instruction. The knowledge that God is truly sovereign and in control of all things made Habakkuk “stand in awe” of God’s deeds. He humbly prayed that God, in meting out His justice, would meet His people in mercy (3:2). Habakkuk then records his contemplation of a victory psalm that recounts God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt, His preservation of them through the time of their wilderness wanderings, and His triumphal leading of them in the conquest of the Promised Land (3:3-15). The rehearsal of that epic material commemorating the age of the Exodus brought a further sense of awe and humility to Habakkuk. Such a great God could be trusted to accomplish His purposes with all nations and peoples. Therefore, though calamity must come, Habakkuk would wait patiently and confidently. He would also abide in the Lord’s strength for His sovereign and perfect will to be effected (3:16-19).

The composition and arrangement of Habakkuk’s prophecy reflect well the basic theme of the book. The deliberation and defense of the theme in the first two chapters are given in a dialogue style, recording the discussions between the prophet and his God. The book opens with a carefully crafted unit utilizing the genre of lament (1:2-4).240 The section contains the customary features of introductory invocation (v. 2) and a statement of the problem or crisis that precipitated the plaintiff’s cry (vv. 3-4) as well as an implied petition: “God, won’t you please do something about this terrible situation?” Likewise Habakkuk’s second perplexity (1:12-2:1) as to God’s use of the rapacious Chaldeans contains the normal elements of lament: invocation (v. 12), a statement of the problem (vv. 13-17), and a closing affirmation of confidence in God (2:1). Like the first lament it also implies a petition: “Can’t you find some other agent of chastisement?”

The other participant in the dialogue—God—is introduced in two sections recording the divine answers to Habakkuk’s questions. These units also show careful literary construction. In the first instance (1:5-11) God gives to Habakkuk not only a solution to his perplexity (God will send the Chaldeans to deal with Judah’s sin, vv. 5-6) but also an accompanying description of the ability of His agent of judgment to deliver the required punishment (vv. 7-11). God’s second answer (2:2-20) is also given in a distinctive format: introductory formula (v. 2a), preliminary instructions (vv. 2b-3), general guiding principles (v. 4), and particular detailed application (vv. 5-20). The latter portion takes up the bulk of chap. 2 and constitutes a series of taunt songs (vv. 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20) against the Chaldeans. The taunts are presented in the form of a series of woes, each containing several of the characteristic features of woe oracles, including invective (vv. 6, 9, 12, 15, 19a), threat (vv. 7, 11, 13, 16, 20), and criticism (vv. 8, 10, 14, 17, 18, 19b).241

Each major unit of chaps. 1-2 is composed such that the two perplexities of the prophet are begun with a question (1:2, 12) and each of the answers starts with an imperative (1:5; 2:2). Moreover, the two chapters are threaded together with the stitch-words מִשְׁפָּט ( misŒpa„t£, “justice/judgment/law,” 1:4, 7, 12), צַדִּיק ( s£addîq, “righteous,” 1:4, 13; 2:4),242 בּוֹגֵד/ בּוֹגְדִים ( bo‚geŒdîm/ bo‚ge„d, “treacherous/betrays,” 1:13; 2:5), and אָסַף ( áa„sap, “gather,” 1:9, 15; 2:5) as well as verbs of seeing (1:3, 5, 13). Individual units in the first two chapters likewise have distinctive characteristics. Thus 1:12-2:1 is bookended with the idea of reproof, and the Lord’s second reply is constructed with enclosing statements that contrast the unrighteous Chaldeans with the righteous who live by faith, mindful of God in His holy Temple (2:4, 20).

With the third chapter it is obvious that the book’s central theme has received an entirely different setting. Gone is the dialogue style with its questions and answers as well as such features as lament, taunts, and woes. In their place one finds chiefly prayer and praise, and especially a long victory ode that retells in epic fashion God’s leading of His people in triumph out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise (3:3-15). The epic poem is of particular interest in that it is composed of different Hebrew than the rest of the book. Indeed, it contains some rare words and difficult grammatical constructions not representative of standard classical Hebrew. It is apparent that the material belongs to an older stage of the language. The evidence for its archaic setting is as follows.

First are numerous cases of defective spelling in the interior of words, as pointed out by W. F. Albright.243 Next are various early grammatical elements and poetic devices: (1) the lack of the definite article; (2) the t-imperfect used with duals or collectives (v. 4); (3) the use of the old pronominal suffix ־ה (vv. 4, 11); (4) the employment of enclitic -m (v. 8);244 (5) the frequent appearance of the old preterite prefix-conjugation verbs (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14) in variation with the suffix-conjugation; (6) the use of the ל of possession in inverted predicate position in a nonverbal sentence (v. 6); and (7) the use of structured tricola employing climactic parallelism (vv. 4, 6b, 7, 8a, 10, 11, 13b) to mark major divisions (vv. 6b-7, 8) or subdivisions (vv. 4, 10, 11, 13b, 14) within the poem.

One may notice also the use of parallel expressions and set terms held in common in Ugaritic and the corpus of old Hebrew poetry: אֶרֶץ / שָׁמַיִם (v. 3), פָּנִים/ קֶרֶן (vv. 4-5), עוֹלָם גִּבְעוֹת/ הַרְרֵי־עַד (v. 6), יָם/ נָהָר, מֶרְכָּבָה/ סוּס (v. 8), מַטֶּה/ קֶשֶׁת (v. 9), קוֹל/ תְּהוֹם, נָשָׂא/ נָתַן (v. 10), יָרֵחַ/ שֶׁמֶשׁ, בָּרָק/ חֵץ (v. 11). Also to be noted is the use of a vocabulary commonly found in older poetic material: אֱלוֹהַ, קָדוֹשׁ, הַר־פָּארָן, שָׁמַיִם (v. 3), חָוָה (v. 6), אָוֶן, רָגַז (v. 7), אַף, רָכַב (v. 8), מַיִם ( זֶרֶם), תְּהוֹם, קוֹל (v. 10), אַף (v. 12), מַטֶּה, רֹאשׁ, פָּרַז (v. 14), and רַבִּים מַיִם, יָם (v. 15).245

No less significant is the presence of themes common to the body of Ugaritic and early Old Testament poetic literature: (1) the Lord’s movement from the southland (v. 3; cf. Deut. 33:1-2; Judg. 5:4; Ps. 68:8 [HB]); (2) the presence of the heavenly assemblage (v. 5; cf. Deut. 33:2-3); (3) the shaking of the terrestial and celestial worlds at God’s presence (vv. 6, 10-11; cf. Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:8-9, 13-15 [HB]); 68:34 [HB]; 77:18-20 [HB]; 144:5-6); (4) the Lord’s anger against sea and river (v. 8; cf. Ex. 15:8; Ps. 18:8, 16 [HB]); (5) the Lord’s presence riding the clouds (v. 8; cf. Ex. 15:4; Pss. 18:11-12 [HB]; 68:5, 34 [HB]); (6) the fear of the enemy at the Lord’s advance (vv. 7, 10?; cf. Ex. 15:14-16; Pss. 18:8 [HB]; 77:18-20 [HB]); (7) the Lord’s fighting against the boastful (v. 14; cf. Ex. 15:9) enemy (vv. 9, 11, 13-14; cf. Ex. 15:3, 6; Ps. 77:19 [HB]) so as to deliver His people (vv. 13-15; cf. Pss. 18:38-39, 41 [HB]; 68:8 [HB] with Ex. 15:10, 12-13).246

The poetry of these verses is drawn from two separate compositions. That there are two poems here can be seen both from their differing themes and from the syntax of the respective material. The first section (vv. 3-7) describes God’s leading of His heavenly and earthly hosts from the south in an awe-inspiring theophany. It is marked structurally by the repeated use of the coordinator waw to tie together its thought associations. The second section (vv. 8-15) constitutes a victory song commemorating the conquest itself and points to the basis of that success in the Exodus, particularly in the victory at the Red Sea. Structurally no waw coordinator is used, thought associations being accomplished through variations in sentence structure, including change of word order and the skillful employment of tricola.

These poems bear the marks of genuine epic,247 employing epic themes and style throughout. The central focus is on a hero—God Himself. The first poem (vv. 3-7) relates the account of an epic journey, God’s leading of His people from the southland toward Canaan, the land of promise. The poet calls attention to God’s command of nature in awesome theophany (vv. 3-4), to His companions (v. 5), to His earth-shaking power (v. 6), and to the effect of all this on the inhabitants of the land (v. 7).

The second poem (vv. 8-15) transcends the bounds of the movement from Egypt to the Jordan (cf. Ps. 114:3-5), the phraseology being best understood as including God’s miraculous acts in the conquest period as well. God’s victories at the end of the Exodus account are rehearsed first (vv. 8-11), possibly reflecting such deeds as the triumph at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) and at the Jordan (Josh. 3-4) as well as the victories at the Wadi Kishon (Judg. 4-5) and Gibeon (Josh. 10).248 The poet then describes the victory that gave Israel its deliverance and eventual conquest of Canaan: the triumph in Israel’s exodus from Egypt (vv. 12-15).

Epic elements can also be seen in these two poems in the use of literary features common to the epic genre: static epithets, set parallel terms, and the vocabulary and themes common to the commemoration of the Exodus.249 Thus, whether in terms of subject matter or literary style, Habakkuk’s twofold psalm deserves to be recognized as an epic remnant. Habakkuk has employed epic material to illustrate and validate his thesis that God is in control of earth’s unfolding history and, as in the past, He may be expected to deal justly with His covenant nation, which He has instructed to live by its faith(fulness, 2:4) and to “be silent before him” (2:20).

One might also make a reasonable case for the third chapter’s being considered a teŒpilla‚—a prayer. Indeed, many of the features common to this type of poetry (cf. Pss. 17, 86, 90, 102, 143) are present: opening cry/statement of praise, attestation of reverence/trust (v. 2a), petition/problem (v. 2b), praise and exaltation of God (vv. 3-15), statement of trust and confidence in God (vv. 16-18), and concluding note of praise (v. 19). These are developed to settle the prophet’s concerns and to assure his readers that God is in control of earth’s history, guiding the destinies of nations and all mankind in accordance with His holy and wise purposes.

Although a diversity of style between the first two chapters of Habakkuk and chap. 3 has been demonstrated, in a deeper sense the final chapter is a necessary corollary and conclusion to the prophet’s wrestlings of the first two chapters. One wonders whether the central theophany of 3:3-15 is not only a result of the prophet’s prayer (3:2) but also the anticipated outcome of the prophetic expectations (2:2, 20).

Before leaving the discussion on literary matters, note something of the richness of the literary features that Habakkuk uses. In addition to the employment of taunt songs, woe, and epic poetry previously mentioned, one may find such literary forms as the proverb (1:9; 2:6) and such literary figures as simile and metaphor (1:8, 9, 11, 14-17; 2:5, 7, 8, 15, 16; 3:4, 8-10, 11, 14, 19), allegory (2:15-16), metonymy (2:5; 3:2, 9), merismus (3:7), hendiadys (1:15?; 2:2?), hyperbole (1:6-11; 3:6, 11), paronomasia (2:19; 3:13-14a), personification (1:7-11; 2:5, 11; 3:1, 5, 7, 10), rhetorical question (1:12; 2:13, 18; 3:8), repetition for effect (1:15b-17), and synecdoche (3:7) as well as such structural devices as alliteration and assonance (1:6, 10; 2:6, 7, 15, 18; 3:2), enjambment (1:13; 2:18; 3:4, 16), gender-matched parallelism (2:5; 3:3), staircase parallelism (3:8), climactic parallelism (3:2), pivot-pattern parallelism (1:17), and chiasmus (1:2, 3, 4; 2:1, 6, 9, 14, 16; 3:3).

If Habakkuk does not reach the literary artistry of Nahum, it may be due to the nature of the prophet’s spiritual odyssey that often approximates the Israelite wisdom literature in sentiment and expression. Habakkuk’s wrestling with the problem of the justice of God finds its most able format in the utilization of a dialogue style that is almost narrative in quality. His familiarity with and employment of epic traditional material, however, demonstrates that Habakkuk is not without poetic sensitivity (cf. 3:16-19). A careful literary reading of his prophecy will pay rich dividends in understanding.


Superscription (1:1)

I. The Prophet’s Perplexities and God’s Explanations (1:2-2:20)

A. First Perplexity: How Can God Disregard Judah’s Sin? (1:2-4)

B. First Explanation: God Will Judge Judah Through the Chaldeans (1:5-11)

C. Second Perplexity: How Can God Employ the Wicked Chaldeans? (1:12-2:1)

D. Second Explanation: God Controls All Nations According to His Purposes (2:2-20)

1. Preliminary instructions (2:2-3)

2. Guiding principles (2:4)

3. Specific applications (2:5-20)

a. The case of the Chaldeans (2:5)

b. The first woe: The plundering Chaldean will be despoiled (2:6-8)

c. The second woe: The plotting Chaldean will be denounced (2:9-11)

d. The third woe: The pillaging Chaldean will be destroyed (2:12-14)

e. The fourth woe: The perverting Chaldean will be disgraced (2:15-17)

f. The fifth woe: The polytheistic Chaldean will be deserted by his idols (2:18-20)

II. The Prophet’s Prayer and God’s Exaltation (3:1-19)

A. The Prophet’s Prayer for the Redeemer’s Pity (3:1-2)

B. The Prophet’s Praise of the Redeemer’s Person (3:3-15)

1. The Redeemer’s coming (3:3-7)

a. His appearance (3:3-4)

b. His actions (3:5-7)

2. The Redeemer’s conquest (3:8-15)

a. His power as seen at the waters (3:8-9b)

b. His power as seen in the natural world (3:9c-11)

c. His power as seen by the enemy (3:12-15)

C. The Prophet’s Pledge to the Redeemer’s Purposes (3:16-19)

1. A statement of the prophet’s trust in the Redeemer (3:16-18)

2. A concluding note of praise to the Redeemer (3:19)


Although related to matters of date and authorship (q.v.), the problem of the unity of the book is primarily literary. Recent scholarship has largely conceded that Habakkuk has been given its present unity250 through such things as subject matter (e.g., the downfall of the godless and the prophet’s trust in God), motifs (e.g., righteous[ness] vs. wicked[ness]), and vocabulary (e.g., [all] the nation[s]—1:5, 17; 2:5; 3:6, 16; the [whole] earth—1:6; 2:4, 20; 3:3, 5, 9; people[s]—1:6, 7; 2:10; 3:13), but many still deny an original unity of composition. For example, Eissfeldt acknowledges the essential authorship and resultant unity of the book but nevertheless asserts that

we must therefore regard the book of Habakkuk as a loose collection of a group of songs of lamentation and oracles (i, 2-ii, 4), a series of six cries of woe (ii, 5-20), and the prayer of iii, which all stem from the same prophet Habakkuk, probably a cult-prophet, and originated in approximately the same period.251

Particularly worrisome to the unity of the composition has been the identity of the wicked in 1:2-4 and 1:13-17. Earlier critical scholarship tended to solve the problem by excising 1:5-11 and relegating it to an earlier prophetic work that supposedly had become associated with the Habakkuk material and subsequently inserted into the text.252 Also troublesome was the obvious literary difference of the material in chap. 3, a chapter whose authenticity was further called into doubt by its failure to be included in 1QpHab.

As for the first problem, the identity of the wicked becomes a difficulty only by attempting to make it refer to the same group in both passages. Traditional scholarship has held that the wicked referred to in 1:2-4 are Judah’s citizens but are the Babylonians in 1:13-17, those whom God was to employ in punishing the wicked Judahites (1:5-11). So viewed, 1:5-11 does not need to be deleted and the unity of the first two chapters is preserved. This is the simplest understanding and one that has enjoyed endorsement by critics of all persuasions.253

With regard to the problem of chap. 3, although it was not utilized by the author of 1QpHab, this may be due either to its incorporation of epic material inappropriate to the situation and purposes of the Dead Sea community or to the difficulty of its language that so obscured primary interpretation that midrashic application could scarcely proceed smoothly. Further, since as W. H. Brownlee has pointed out the authenticity of the third chapter is unquestionable, being attested sufficiently long before the date of 1QpHab, its absence from the Qumran manuscript cannot be accounted for on the basis of date.254 Nor need its absence be attributed to matters of unity or composition. Indeed, as Eissfeldt acknowledges,

There are in fact no substantial arguments against deriving the poem from Habakkuk, and even the fact that the Habakkuk ‘Commentary’ from Qumra„n limits its ‘exposition’ to chs. i-ii and leaves ch. iii out of account, is not a decisive argument. For this does not by any means have to be taken as indicating that at the time of the composition of the commentary, c. 100 B.C., ch. iii did not yet belong to the book of Habakkuk. There are many other possibilities which are to be preferred to this.255

Still further, several internal data support the unity of chap. 3 with chaps. 1 and 2. (1) As noted previously, a demonstrable unity of subject matter, theme, and vocabulary exists in the book. C. Armerding has provided an extensive list of words, ideas, and themes that can be perceived in all three chapters:

Common features include their headings (1:1; 3:1); the lament form underlying their prayers (1:2-4, 12-2:1; 3:1-2); the preoccupation with salvation, triumphantly vindicated in the final chapter ( ya„sŒaà, 1:2, 3:8, 13 [bis], 18); the judgment on domestic sin through a foreign nation (1:2-11; 3:2, 14-17); the “wicked” ( ra„sŒa„à, 1:13; 3:13) and their intent to “devour” ( áa„kal, 1:8; 3:14); the concomitant disruption of the “nations” (1:5-17; 2:5-17; cf. 3:6-7, 12); the “revelation” that forms the turning point in the prophet’s intercession (2:23; 3:3-15); the resultant promise of judgment ensuing on that nation (2:3-20; 3:12-16), as on a “house” destined to be razed to its foundations ( bayi t, 2:9-10; 3:13; cf. 2:9-13; 3:13); the transformation effected by this promise, promoting both faith and patience (2:2-4; 3:16-19); the anticipation of God’s universal reign (2:14; 3:3); and the common basis on the covenant, particularly Deuteronomy 28-32, that shapes the pattern outlined above.256

(2) A common perspective pervades the whole: the prophet interacting personally with his God (cf. 1:2-3, 5, 12-13; 2:1, 2-3, 4; 3:2, 16). Even the prophet’s stance of 3:17-19 seems clearly to have been anticipated in 2:2. (3) Only with the closing verses of the third chapter is there a satisfactory conclusion to all of the prophet’s uncertainties.

Though all this does not guarantee the original compositional unity of the whole book, it does argue strongly for it, particularly as these data are considered in light of its carefully crafted literary structure. One wonders whether anyone but the author could have designed the whole. Perhaps P. C. Craigie has understated the case in remarking that “despite the disparate nature of the contents there need be few doubts as to the unity of the book.”257

Occasion, Purpose, And Teachings

If the above conclusions with regard to the date and authorship of Habakkuk’s prophecy are more or less accurate, the book has its origin in recounting the prophet’s intense personal experience with God. Specifically it records Habakkuk’s spiritual perplexities as to God’s seeming indifference in an era of moral decay and spiritual apostasy, and God’s patient responses to his prophet. The book also rehearses Habakkuk’s theophanic experience that came as a climax to his spiritual wrestling and the prophet’s victorious movement from a position of questioning God to one of casting himself upon his Redeemer. If Habakkuk was also a Levite or in some way connected with the Temple cultus, the book’s final prayer and theophany were of such a magnitude to Habakkuk personally that he set them down in words and form intended for use in Temple worship. In any event, the whole prophecy is designed to serve as an exemplary testimony of God’s continued concern for His people and His dealings in the affairs of all mankind.

As one contemplates the message and teachings of Habakkuk, it seems clear that the book has several other purposes. Some are doubtless connected with the prophet’s desire to convey theological insights gained during his spiritual odyssey (see Theological Context). Habakkuk’s short prophecy is also a rich mine for ethical principles, such as the availability of God for the questioning believer (1:2-4, 5; 2:1-3), God’s absolute standard of holiness for personal conduct (1:12-13), God’s use of human conventions and institutions to accomplish His holy purposes (1:6), God’s bringing into account the actions of all nations and peoples (2:6-10), and a life of faith as a basic guide for the righteous individual (2:4).

In agreement with this latter purpose, Habakkuk also wishes to convey wise counsel to his readers. Several themes deal with divine justice, such as the problem of human sin and suffering in their relation to divine sovereignty and the problems of morality and social justice in the face of the demand for holiness.258 These come through most forcefully in Habakkuk’s second encounter with God (1:12-2:20). Here Habakkuk decries God’s use of a less holy instrument (the Chaldeans) to chastise God’s people for their unholy actions and is told plainly that man needs to leave such cases to God. The Lord will in turn deal with that unholy instrument, but meanwhile the righteous person is to live a life of faith (2:4) and devotion (2:20), being mindful of God’s ultimate purposes (2:14).

In God’s answers to Habakkuk, He gives him wise insight into the basic issues of life for individuals and societies:259 wealth is not in itself wrong, but unjust gain will not be tolerated (2:6-11); civic growth and prosperity are not condemnable but cannot be accomplished at the expense of mankind’s rights (2:14-20); the misuse of another person to gain one’s own ends is despicable (2:15-17). The individual is also reminded that anything he puts ahead of God’s rightful place as the center of his life is idolatry (2:18-20). This last point serves as the culminating observation to a discussion of the spiritual and social evils for which Babylon must be judged and touches upon another major theme in the book—the problem of evil:

Thus the problem of the book is the problem of evil—in world history, in the church, in the human heart, the realization that every human “solution” contains the seed of its own dissolution and often only exacerbates the problem.... Pagan dualism and fatalism could (and can) always attribute the problem to other “gods” or inscrutable forces immanent in the universe, but a monotheistic belief in one righteous and holy God must somehow reconcile the continued power of evil with His governance—and perhaps ultimately with His very existence.260

The issue of war forms a subpurpose in the book. Whereas Habakkuk seemingly is concerned not so much about warfare per se as he is about God’s employment of an unholy nation against His people, the theophany of chap. 3 revealing a triumphant God in holy warfare is a reminder to Habakkuk (and to all) that extreme times call for strong measures. God Himself must at times enter human history, using such social conventions as warfare to accomplish His purpose (3:13) in order that ultimately the earth may be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14). Such knowledge justifies neither deliberate aggression nor warfare itself as a norm for relations between peoples.261

As indicated above, Habakkuk wishes his experiences to be exemplary. The normal human being will be an inquisitive person, even at times calling God into question. Habakkuk had experienced honest doubts but was reminded that such an experience was not to be normative. Rather, a consideration of all the evidence, including the Person, nature, and work of God, should be a reminder that the God who will do right needs to be the God of the whole life.262 When this is understood the believer will respond in adoration (2:20) and faith (2:4), waiting patiently and joyfully for God’s glorious (2:14) purposes to be realized both in the world and in the lives of all its inhabitants (3:16-19).

Text And Canonicity

The MT of Habakkuk contains many difficulties. In addition to the obscurities in the third chapter (in which alone Albright proposed more than three dozen “corrections”263), several hapax legomena occur elsewhere (e.g., 1:4, 9; 2:11). There are also grammatical (2:4) and scribal problems (2:16). It is small wonder, then, that the text of the LXX differs often from that of the MT. In addition, significant differences from the MT have been noted in 1QpHab. Thus Würthwein remarks: “Some sixty examples of its deviations from M which are more than purely orthographical (e.g., scriptio plena) are cited in the third apparatus of BHK.”264 Even so conservative a scholar as R. K. Harrison admits that “the text of the prophecy has not been particularly well preserved, and contains some obscurities, a fact that is also true of the Qumran text.”265

On the other hand, one must not overly dramatize the textual difficulties. In addition to Albright’s pioneering efforts, many have labored successfully in bringing better understanding to the consonantal text of the third chapter.266 As for the variation between the MT and 1QpHab, though the evidence points to some fluidity in the Hebrew textual tradition (a condition that was soon altered with the adoption of the MT267) one must not set aside the MT in too cavalier a fashion. As Würthwein points out:

Our main interest centers on M. In every instance it deserves special attention because it is based on direct transmission in the original language, and it has been handed down with great care.... Any deviation from it therefore requires justification.... The question whether M can be faulted either linguistically or materially is to be decided at times only after intensive investigations. Specifically, if a reading of M is rejected, every possible interpretation of it must first have been fully examined.268

When due allowance is made, then, despite the presence of a few individual textual problems one may say with R. Smith, “The Hebrew text of Habakkuk is in fair shape.”269

If the problems concerning the text of Habakkuk are somewhat unsettling, the issue of Habakkuk’s canonicity is not. The early canonization of all the OT prophetical books appears to be unquestionable. Habakkuk, as one of the twelve Minor Prophets, enjoyed full acceptance as part of the OT canon.270 Armerding’s declaration is apropos:

Habakkuk was early grouped with the other so-called Minor Prophets in the Book of the Twelve (attested as such in Ecclus 49:10 [c. 190 B.C.]), the acceptance of which is never questioned, either in Jewish or Christian circles. Questions of the unity of the book do not seem to have affected its acceptance, and in fact there is no ancient record of a dispute over chapter 3.271

Theological Context

It was suggested earlier that one of the purposes of the book of Habakkuk was to convey theological truth. Indeed, Habakkuk tells his readers certain facts concerning God’s Person and work. He informs his readers that the everlasting (1:12; 3:3, 6) God of glory (2:14; 3:3-4) is sovereign (2:20) over all individuals and nations (1:5, 14; 2:6-19; 3:3-15), guiding them according to His predetermined purpose to bring glory to Himself (2:14). God is a God of holiness (1:12-13; 2:20; 3:3) and justice (1:12-13; 2:4) who, although He judges godlessness and injustice (1:2-11; 2:5-19; 3:12-15), in mercy often tempers His righteous anger against sin (3:2, 8, 12). A God of omnipotence (3:4-7, 8-15), He works for the deliverance and salvation of His people (3:13, 18). A God of revelation (1:1; 2:2-3), He hears the cries and prayers (1:2-4, 12-17; 2:1; 3:1-2) of His own and answers them (1:5-11; 2:4-20; 3:3-15). As a result of all his experiences, Habakkuk came to learn that the issues of life and death rest with God and that the righteous individual will by faith (2:4-5) come to realize that God is sufficient for every situation (3:16-19).

The book of Habakkuk likewise gives instruction as to the nature of man’s relationship with God. It demonstrates God’s displeasure with immorality and injustice (1:2-11) and with such sins as greed, stealing, plundering, violence, bloodshed and murder, taking advantage of others, drunkenness, and idolatry (2:5-19). It also teaches that one can know God’s salvation (3:18) through faith (2:4). Above all, the individual needs to learn to trust God and let Him be God of his whole life (3:16).

Habakkuk’s prophecy also reminds the believer of the possibility of an intimate communion with God that can overcome his deepest depression and darkest seasons of doubt (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1). God hears and answers prayer (2:1-4; 3:2, 16). The believer may thus live a life of faith (2:4), walking before Him in patient trust (3:16-17) and joyful service (3:18-19).

The Prophet’s Perplexities and God’s Explanations, Part One
(Habakkuk 1:1-2:1)

Habakkuk’s messages deal with the problems of individual and national sin in the face of a sovereign and holy God. In the opening section (vv. 2-4) the reader is introduced to a former crisis in the prophet’s spiritual experience. In contemplating the rampant immorality and social injustice that surrounded him, Habakkuk was disturbed at God’s seeming indifference and inactivity. Why had a holy God not brought the needed chastisement and correction to the people of Judah?

Habakkuk’s complaint occasioned a reply from a patient God. Not only would He do something, the judicial process was already underway. Although Habakkuk might find it hard to believe, it was nonetheless so. God was already raising up the ruthless Chaldeans to deal with sinful Judah (vv. 5-6).

But God’s description of the Chaldeans’ viciousness (vv. 7-11) raised for Habakkuk a further difficulty: How could a holy God use an unholy nation—indeed, a far more unholy people than Judah—to judge His people? (vv. 12-13). Habakkuk feared that, once set loose, such a destroyer could never be restrained, not only Judah but all nations falling victim to him (vv. 14-17). Despite his doubts, the prophet ends his remarks with a statement of his confidence in God (2:1).

From a literary standpoint, Habakkuk’s first major section includes an expression of the prophet’s perplexities (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1) alternating with the Lord’s responses (1:5-11; 2:2-20). Habakkuk’s questions are framed in the lament genre containing the commonly occurring elements of invocation (1:2, 12-13a), statement of the problem (1:3-4, 13b-17), and statement of prophetic confidence in God (2:1).

Other literary features utilized here are simile and metaphor (1:8, 9, 11, 14-17), hyperbole (1:6-11), personification (1:7-11), rhetorical question (1:12), hendiadys (1:15?), and proverb (1:9). Several structural devices also occur: alliteration and assonance (1:6, 10), enjambment (1:13), repetition for effect (1:15b-17), pivot-pattern parallelism (1:17?), and chiasmus (1:2, 3, 4; 2:1). The use of the stitch-words מִשְׁפָּט ( misŒpa„t£) and צַדִּיק ( s£addîq), as well as verbs of seeing, must also be noted.

Immediately after the notice of the source of his prophecy (1:1), Habakkuk plunges into a rehearsal of his spiritual wrestling with God. In so doing he tells his readers of his perplexities as to the divine working and of God’s answers to his questions (1:2-2:20). This chapter will consider Habakkuk’s superscription (1:1), his two questions, and God’s answer to the first (1:2-2:1).

Superscription (1:1)


The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.*

Exegesis and Exposition

Like Nahum, Habakkuk begins his messages by terming the whole an oracle, a word placed upon his heart by God that he must accurately convey to others. As did Nahum, Habakkuk assures his readers that what he was about to relate was not born of his own ingenuity but was that which God had revealed to him. Unlike Nahum, however, Habakkuk does not state that his message is specifically directed at any one individual or group of people, even though he will devote a great deal of space to a denunciation of the Chaldeans. Nor is any setting given, as in the case of Zephaniah’s superscription. Rather, because Habakkuk’s message is designated as that which he saw, the reader is alerted to the likelihood of the prophet’s personal experiences being involved in the account.

Additional Notes

1:1 †For the significance of the word ,מַשָּׂא see the additional note on Nahum 1:1. The joining of the verb חָזָה (“see”) to the noun מַשָּׂא has seemed difficult to some. A translation such as “received” (cf. NIV, NJB) has often been suggested. Though emphasis is frequently placed on a prophet’s delivery of a received communication (cf. Isa. 1:1), making such a translation appear to be correct, Habakkuk’s stress seems to be on his own participation in the revelatory process. The reader is thus perhaps prepared for the theophany of the third chapter and reminded that God’s prophet may have been an eyewitness to at least some of what God intends for him to communicate (cf. 2:2).

Nevertheless, however visionary the revelatory process might have been for the prophet, what he conveys is not merely his own impression of an event or series of events but the very words God wishes him to write (cf. Ps. 89:19 [HB 89:20]; Hos. 12:10 [HB 12:11]; Obad. 1; etc.). Such an understanding is in harmony with such texts as Isa. 30:10, which lay stress both on the prophet’s reception of God’s revelation and on his verbal communication of God’s message to his hearers.

In contrast to those who would tend to make the prophet’s participation in the revelatory process more passive,272 the view taken here finds the prophet more active.273 While God is held to be sovereign in revelation and inspiration, in cases of visionary experiences the prophet at times apparently sees what God intends to do, agrees with God’s revealed activities (sees them from God’s point of view), and conveys in his own words the very words and message that God intends to be communicated to the prophet’s audience. The verb חָזָה then, is appropriate, not only denoting what the prophet received and was passing on but also allowing for personal seeing of certain details, such as the theophany of 3:3-15.

The same root occurs in the noun חֲזוֹן (“vision”) in parallel with משָּׂא in the superscription to Nahum. There, too, though the word is used to express the words of revelation that Nahum is communicating, it may include actual visionary experiences.

A. First Perplexity: How Can God Disregard Judah’s Sin? (1:2-4)

Habakkuk at once plunges into a dramatic rehearsal of a time when the impact of Judah’s unchecked sin overwhelmed him. His questioning of God forms the backdrop for the examination of the relation of God’s holy standards to the operation of the divine providence that follows later.


How long*, O Lord*, have I cried for help*

      and You have not heard?

I cry out to You, “Violence!”

      but You do not save.

3Why do You make me look at iniquity

      while You behold* oppression?

Destruction and violence are before me;

      there is strife, and contention abounds.

4Therefore, (the) law* is benumbed*

      and justice* never goes forth;

Because the wicked engulf* the righteous,

      justice goes out perverted*.

Exegesis and Exposition

The nature of Habakkuk’s complaint to God, begun in the invocation (v. 2) and elaborated in the statement of the problem (vv. 3-4), can be better appreciated when one examines the four words he employs to describe his perception of Judahite society. חָמָס ( h£a„ma„s, “violence”)*, אָוֶן ( áa„„wen, “iniquity”), עָמָל ( àa„ma„l, “oppression”)*, and שֹׂד ( sŒo„d, “destruction”)* are strong words that contain moral and spiritual overtones. In order, they depict a society that is characterized by malicious wickedness (cf. Gen. 6:11, 13; Ps. 72:14), deceitful iniquity—both moral (cf. Job 34:36; Prov. 17:4; Isa. 29:20) and spiritual (cf. Isa. 66:3)—oppressive behavior toward others (cf. Isa. 10:1), and the general spiritual and ethical havoc that exists where such sin abounds (cf. Isa. 59:7). It is small wonder that, where such conditions persist, רִיב ( rîb, strife”) and מָדוֹז ( ma„do‚n, “contention”) are also rife. The former root implies quarrelsome talk (Gen. 31:36) or behavior (Ex. 17:2; Prov. 17:1) and appears often in a legal setting (e.g., Prov. 25:7-10; Isa. 27:7-9); the latter is used to denote a situation where dissension is present (Prov. 6:14; 16:28; 26:20; 28:25; 29:22).

In Habakkuk’s eyes, then, Judahite society was spiritually bankrupt and morally corrupt. Because sin abounded, injustice was the norm. Habakkuk describes the judicial situation in two ways: (1) Because of the basic spiritual condition, the operation of God’s law was sapped of the vital force necessary for it to guide man’s ethical and judicial decisions. Accordingly righteousness did not characterize Judahite society, and justice was never meted out. (2) Because the society itself had become godless, wicked men could so hem in the attempts and actions of the righteous that whatever justice existed was so twisted that the resultant decision was one of utter perversity.

Such a perception of life and society in Judah raises the question of the historical setting involved in the prophet’s description. As noted in the introduction, evangelical scholarship has suggested one of three periods to which these words might have referred: (1) the reign of Jehoiakim (608-598 B.C.), (2) the early days of Josiah (shortly after 640 B.C.), and (3) the reign of Manasseh (698-642 B.C.). In favor of the first suggestion is the known wickedness of Jehoiakim, who took advantage of his own people (Jer. 22:13-14) and also opposed all that was holy and decent, filling the land with violence and degradation (Jer. 8:18-9:16; 10:1-8; 11:1-17; 13:1-4; 23:9-40; 25:1-7; 36:1-32).

In favor of the second proposal is the known apostasy that Josiah was called upon to correct from the earliest days of his reign (2 Chron. 34:1-7) as well as the mute testimony of the Temple, which had fallen into such disrepair that its restoration called for the king’s special attention. Indirect evidence comes from the widespread reforms and revival that followed upon the finding of the Book of the Law in 621 B.C. (2 Chron. 34:23-35:19).

Supportive of the third alternative is the clear scriptural indication of extreme wickedness during the reign of Manasseh. According to 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:11-20, that evil king not only reinstituted the loathsome Canaanite worship practices of Asherah and Baal (which Hezekiah his father had done away with) but also introduced a state astral cult. He built pagan altars in the outer courts and priests’ courts and placed an Asherah pole within the Temple itself. He also indulged in sorcery, divination, and witchcraft as well as the abominable rites of infant sacrifice.274

Though all three views are possible and each has been espoused by evangelical scholars, the last view enjoys the support of Jewish tradition and, in light of the Lord’s reply that He would deal with the situation in a way that would amaze His prophet (1:5), is perhaps the most contextually suitable. It would also demand the most prophetic foresight. Accordingly, for these reasons and those suggested in the introduction, the third view will be followed provisionally in this commentary.275

These verses, then, underscore the prophet’s consternation as to the seeming divine indifference to all the debauchery he saw around him. R. D. Culver describes some of the thinking and fears that must have accompanied Habakkuk’s perplexities:

When magistrates permit murder, theft, fornication and the like to go unchecked and unpunished, God calls the whole nation to accounting. The unpunished crimes pollute the land, becoming a growing mortgage against all, upon which God may finally foreclose, driving some inhabitants away, destroying others and permitting different peoples to dwell in the land.276

Habakkuk was disturbed also by God’s silence with regard to his prophet’s repeated cries for help and intervention.

Additional understanding on this latter point may be gained by considering the relation of Habakkuk’s words to the well-known “call-answer motif. This theme is used often in the Scriptures to assure the believer that he may call upon God for refuge and protection in times of trouble and distress (Pss. 17:6-12; 20:6-9 [HB 20:7-10]; 81:6-7 [HB 81:7-8]; 91:14-16; 102:1-2 [HB 102:2-3]; 138:8). Further, he may find guidance from God (Ps. 99:6-7; Jer. 33:2-3) and experience intimate communion with Him both in this life and in the next (Job 14:14-15; Ps. 73:23-26). The motif also touches upon God’s future plans for Israel, which include full, restoration to divine fellowship (Isa. 65:24; Zech. 13:7-9).

Unfortunately this motif has its negative side as well. It teaches that when sin is present, God does not answer the one who calls upon Him (Ps. 66:18). The believer must honor God with his life (Ps. 4:1-3 [HB 4:2-4]) and call upon Him in truth (Ps. 145:17-20). Where there is godless living (Isa. 56:11-12), unconcern for the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-9), or indifference to the clear teachings of the Word of God (Jer. 35:17), there is danger of divine judgment (Zech. 7:8-14). Thus the unanswered call becomes a sign of broken fellowship.277

In light of all of this, one wonders whether Habakkuk may have entertained the added thought that he was out of fellowship with God. Divine disregard of Judah’s apostasy and open sin would be difficult enough to understand, but should he himself have so occasioned God’s displeasure that he was not on prayer-answering ground, that might be an additional burden too great to bear. Thus viewed, Habakkuk’s questions and doubts take on an extra emotional and spiritual dimension. He was an unhappy, perplexed, and greatly frustrated prophet.

Additional Notes

1:2 Although I translated the Hebrew tetragrammaton consistently as “Yahweh” in the commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk’s posture as one crying to Israel’s sovereign favors the traditional translation “LORD,” a rendering that will be followed for consistency’s sake throughout the first two chapters. יהוה will be translated “Yahweh” beginning with the epic material in 3:3.

עַד־אָנָה (“how long”): The interrogative adverb אָן (“where”) with augmented ָה ( a‚) is often combined with עַד (“for”) to form, as here, a compound interrogative particle of time (cf. Ex. 16:28; Num. 14:11; Josh. 18:3; Jer. 47:6). Here it introduces the prophet’s invocation. Used with a suffix conjugation, the phrase may indicate Habakkuk’s past repeated cries to God. Thus Keil is probably correct in translating “How long . . . have I cried” (cf. LXX), as opposed to the usual English translations (“How long ... will I/must I/am I to cry”) that emphasize the prophet’s continuing call for help.278 Thus construed the phrase underscores Habakkuk’s frustration and exasperation with the whole state of affairs.

The prophet’s concern is therefore a longstanding one, so that his doubts and questionings are not those of a fault-finding negative critic or a skeptic but the honest searchings of a holy prophet of God. In contrast to other words for crying, שׁוע carries with it the idea of a cry for help. Victor Hamilton reports that the verb is used characteristically in the autobiographical first person, particularly in lament literature.279 As to origin, Gerber suggests that the verb is a denominative from שָׁוְעָה (“cry for help”), itself drawn from the root ישׁע (“save”).280 Whether or not that can be determined, the letters in the word probably form an intentional alliterative chiasmus with תוֹשִׁיעַ at the end of the verse. The prophet’s observation, then, is that although he has cried for help for time long past calculation, no deliverance is yet forthcoming.

1:2-3 The cry “Violence” and the need for divine help are reminiscent of Job’s lament (Job 9:7). Jeremiah (Jer. 6:7; 20:8) also complains of the violence and destruction of Judahite society, a charge echoed by Ezekiel (Ezek. 45:9). Zephaniah (Zeph. 3:4) points out the violating of God’s law that characterized Judahite society at the inception of Josiah’s reign. Such general violence naturally leaves a society in the grip of upheaval and strife (cf. Ps. 55:9 [HB 55:10]).

ָָאוֶן and עָמָל occur together at times to depict sin and its resulting troubles (Ps. 7:14 [HB 7:15]; Isa. 10:1), while עָמָל is employed with שֹׁד in Prov. 24:2 in describing the evil machinations and corrupt words of wicked men. The chiastic deployment of the verbs in lines 1, 2, and 4 of v. 3 is striking.

1:4 †The verb פּוּג (cf. Arabic fa„„ja, “grow cool”; Syriac pa„g, “be cold”) is generally taken to mean “grow numb.” It is used of Jacob’s stunned reaction to the news that his son Joseph still lived (Gen. 45:26) and of the psalmist’s hands stretched out to God in untiring supplication (Ps. 77:2 [HB 77:3]; cf. Lam. 2:18; 3:49). The semantic range of the verb used here with תּוֹרָה (“law”) makes the tragedy of Judahite society most graphic. The operation of God’s law is seen as benumbed and ineffective, much like hands rendered useless by cold, a condition (doubtless occasioned by the spiritual coldness of men’s hearts) that seemed to continue with tireless regularity.

†By תּוֹרָה (“law”) is meant not civil law but God’s law upon which the legal enactments of society must be based if righteousness is to prevail. Thus Theodore Laetsch remarks:

God’s own Law, the constitution of the nation, the heart and soul of Judah’s political, religious, and social life; God’s Law, the neglect of which would inevitably bring on the ruination of God’s land and people (Deut. 28:15ff.), this Law was crippled so that “judgment doth never go forth.”281

מִשְׁפָּט (“justice”) is, as Keil points out, “not merely a righteous verdict, however; in which case the meaning would be: There is no more any righteous verdict given, but a righteous state of things, objective right in the civil and political life.”282 Indeed, as Herbert Marks observes, social justice is a key consideration in Habakkuk’s prophecy.283 Together with צַדּיק (“righteous”) it becomes the literary hook to the next section (vv. 5-11). The themes of justice and righteousness are central ones in the book and will reach a climax in Hab. 2:4. J. G. Harris appropriately states:

Justice ( msŒpt£), which ... carried a redemptive element in its prosecution, and righteousness ( s£dyq) were the quintessence of the divine will. They embodied the central authority from which the coherence of the social order stemmed.284

Their placement in the middle two lines of the chiastic structure of the verse is probably designed for emphatic effect.

מַכְתּיר (“engulf”) is a hiphil participle from כָּתַר (“encircle/surround”). The etymology of the root is clouded, the usual suggested cognates Aramaic/Syriac kattar (“wait/await”) and Akkadian kata„ru (I: “band together”; II: “think”) proving of little help for most Hebrew contexts (but see Job 36:2). KB-3 follows the lead of W. Leslau in relating Hebrew texts where כָּתַר clearly bears the meaning “encircle/surround” (e.g., Ps. 22:12 [HB 22:13]) to the Ethiopic (Tigre) verb kätra (“surround/make a hedge”; cf. Tigrinòa mäktär, “hedge”).285 KB-3 also proposes that in some cases (e.g., Prov. 14:18) the verb is a denominative from כֶּתֶר (“crown”). On the whole Leslau’s suggestion appears to be the simplest, although the occurrence of the root only in the piel and hiphil stems could argue for a denominative origin of this Hebrew verb.

The image of encircling/surrounding, here either with hostile intent or overwhelming superiority, suggests the translation “engulf” given above. The NIV translation “hem in,” also ad sensum, makes excellent sense; the NJB “outwits,” however, is less tenable.

מְעֻקָּל (“perverted”): The word is related to a root attested in Syriac ( àa††qal, “twist”) and Arabic ( àaqqala, “bend”). The form is a hapax legomenon, although the related adjectives עֲקַלְקַל (“twisted,” Judg. 5:6; Ps. 125:5)286 and עֲקַלָּתוֹן (“crooked,” Isa. 27:1)287 are attested. The application of the root to the perverted justice of Judahite society is obvious.

עַל־כֵּן (“therefore”) in lines 1 and 4 is another example of chiasmus.

B. First Explanation: God Will Judge Judah Through The Chaldeans (1:5-11)

To the emotional and dramatic cry of the prophet God gives a dramatic answer that will amaze him. God is already at work on the problem; He will send the Chaldeans to chastise Judah (vv. 5-6). God then supplies some additional details as to the martial abilities of the violent Chaldeans (vv. 7-11).


“Look among the nations* and observe,*

      and be utterly amazed*;

For I am doing* something in your days

      that you would not believe if* it were told (to you).

6For I am raising up the Chaldeans,

      that fierce and fiery* people,

that sweeps across the breadth of the earth

      to seize dwelling places not his own.

7He is terrifying and fearsome,

      a law and an authority to himself.

8His horses are swifter than leopards

      and keener* than wolves of the evening.

His cavalry* gallops on*;

      his horsemen come from afar,

      they fly like an eagle* swooping to devour.

9All of them are bent on violence;

      every face is set forward*,

      they gather captives like the sand.

10He scoffs at kings,

      and princes are a laughingstock to him;

he laughs at every fortress,

      he builds a siege mound and captures it.

11Suddenly the windstorm pushes through and goes on;

      but he whose strength is his god will be held guilty.”

Exegesis and Exposition

In his reply to Habakkuk God seizes upon the very words Habakkuk had used. The prophet had complained that he constantly had to behold evil all around him. But God Himself had seen it all—apparently with unconcern, because He had done nothing to correct either the people or the condition. God now tells Habakkuk to look, to look at the nations, to take a good look. God is already at work in and behind the scenes of earth’s history to set in motion events that will change the whole situation. And when Habakkuk learns what is to happen, he will be utterly amazed. In fact, he probably will not be able to believe it.

The reason for Habakkuk’s projected astonishment becomes apparent in v. 6: God will raise up the Chaldeans. Verses 5-6, revealing Habakkuk’s astonishment at God’s sending the Chaldeans to judge His people, are crucial to understanding the setting of the book.

“Chaldeans” translates the Hebrew כַּשְׂדִּים ( kasÃdîm). By the Neo-Assyrian period the term “Chaldea” was used of those tribes that lived in southernmost Mesopotamia. Many of them were designated by the word bi„t (“house of”), such as Bit Yakin, which was situated on the Persian Gulf. One of the most famous Chaldean kings was Merodach-Baladan, the perennial enemy of Assyria, who sent his emissaries to Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:12-19).288 By at least 705 B.C. Merodach-Baladan took the title “King of Babylon,” with the result that the terms “Chaldean” and “Babylonian” became used interchangeably in the OT (cf. Isa. 13:19; 47:1, 5; 48:14, 20).

After Sennacherib’s defeat of Merodach-Baladan in 701 B.C., Chaldean resistance to Assyria continued from their power base in southernmost Mesopotamia (an area known as the sealands) and was accompanied by a frequently recurring contest for the city of Babylon. On one occasion this brought a surprise attack against Babylon by Sennacherib (689 B.C.) and on another a campaign by Ashurbanipal (652 B.C.), who eventually subdued the city in 648 B.C.

Tensions between the Assyrians and the freedom-loving Chaldeans always remained strained, and after Ashurbanipal’s death the fires of revolt were again fanned. At least by the year of Ashurbanipal’s passing (626 B.C.), the Chaldeans took Babylon, making it their capital and installing Nabopolassar as its king. By the end of the seventh century B.C. the Chaldeans, aided by the Medes and Ummanmanda (Scythians?), had taken all of Assyria. Afterward the allies gradually conquered the greater portion of the ancient Fertile Crescent from the borders of Elam to Egypt.289 The Neo-Babylonian empire was to reach its height of power under Nabopolassar’s son Nebuchadnezzar II (also spelled Nebuchadrezzar; 605-562 B.C.) and last until it experienced a crushing defeat at the hands of the Persians in 539 B.C.290

The question naturally arises as to the relation of the Chaldean political activities to Habakkuk’s prophecy. Those who argue for a date in the time of Jehoiakim (e.g., Archer, Freeman, Hailey, Hummel, Payne, E. J. Young) relate these verses and those that follow to the Chaldeans’ known fighting prowess, as demonstrated in the victories at Nineveh (612 B.C.) and Haran (609 B.C.), perhaps even also at Carchemish (605 B.C.). According to this view one might argue that Habakkuk’s projected amazement is what will serve as the crux of his second complaint—namely, that God would stoop to use such a ruthless people.

Those who favor a date for the book of Habakkuk in Josiah’s reign (e.g., Bullock, Laetsch, Unger) emphasize the prophet’s amazement at hearing about the Chaldeans, a yet relatively unproved power, the general conditions of social and religious chaos that occasioned Josiah’s reforms (cf. Hab. 1:2-4 with Jer. 1-6), and the Lord’s words to the prophet that He would do a work “in your days” (v. 5), which implies a degree of futurity to the prophecy.

Those who favor a setting in the reign of Manasseh (e.g., Keil) stress the documented evil of Manasseh’s reign (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chron. 33:1-20; cf. Hab. 1:2-4) and argue accordingly: they relate Habakkuk’s incredulity to the fact that although the Chaldeans had been a troublesome source of rebellion for the Assyrians they scarcely were candidates for being a world power that could touch Judah; and they consider the expression “in your days” to be a general one that is reconcilable with the Chaldeans’ efforts some 20 years later and Nebuchadnezzar’s strike against Jerusalem 45 years later.

On the whole the latter two views are the most satisfactory.291 Both rightly discount any great amazement concerning the Chaldeans by the time of Jehoiakim, for their viciousness was well known by then. Both can point to general conditions of moral and spiritual wickedness indicated by the Scriptures themselves and can deal satisfactorily with the predicted events as being accomplished “in your days.” Both retain well the force of predictive prophecy, whereas the view that locates the book of Habakkuk in Jehoiakim’s day must face the fact that such predictions as that of Habakkuk 1:5-11 could be given by any noninspired observer of that day.

Because the scriptural data concerning the character of Manasseh’s reign are far better documented (note that the dating of Jer. 1-6 to Josiah’s reign is debated), because of the closeness of subject matter and canonical position of Habakkuk with Nahum and Zephaniah, and because of the possible borrowing of Habakkuk’s material by Jeremiah and Zephaniah (see introduction), I tend to favor the older Jewish view that Habakkuk 1:2-11 is best related to the latter part of Manasseh’s reign (c. 655-650 B.C.)

By telling Habakkuk of the Chaldeans’ future prominence, the Lord reassures him of His sovereign control of the details of history. Since God’s prophet will be surprised at the announcement about the Chaldeans, God goes on to supply a brief résumé of their character and potentially devastating power (vv. 6-11). They are a fierce, cruel people who will never tire in quest of their goal of conquest (v. 6b). Their successes will strike fear into the hearts of all who stand in their path (v. 7a). A terror and dread to all, they arrogantly acknowledge no law but themselves (v. 7b).

The reason for their success may be further seen in their military capabilities. Possessed of swift war horses made skillful by discipline and the experience of battle, their cavalry could cover vast distances quickly in their insatiable thirst for conquest and booty (v. 8). Not alone for spoil but seemingly for the sheer sport of it they campaigned fiercely and inflicted violence on their enemies.

Habakkuk had complained concerning the sinful violence that lay all around him (v. 2). That will be dealt with in kind and in suitable measure (cf. Isa. 24:14-23; Joel 3:7-8 [HB 4:7-8]; 2 Thess. 1:6-8). The word “violence” thus serves as more than a literary hook between the first two sections of the book: Violence was a living reality.

Contrary to Habakkuk’s complaint, God assures his prophet that he sees all that comes to pass and hears the prayers and complaints of His people.292 Habakkuk’s own word is sent back to him. Has Judah done violence? It shall in turn suffer violence at the hands of a violent nation whose well-trained and battle-seasoned army will move forward with such precision that the whole striking force will march as one to achieve its objectives, at the same time taking many captives (v. 9).

No wonder, then, that enemy rulers are merely a joke to them. With disdain they laugh at them, move against their cities, however strongly fortified, and, using siege techniques, capture them (v. 10).

Although the language is hyperbolic throughout (vv. 6-11), in light of the ancient records it is not inappropriate. Among the many texts that could be cited concerning the Chaldeans’ successful campaigning one may note the following:

In the fifteenth year, the month of Tammuz, . . . the king of Akkad called out his army and ... marched to Assyria where [from the month of ... he marched about] victoriously ...... of the land of Hazazu[?] quickly ..... and the land of Su[ppa] he conquered, plundering from them and [taking] spoil [and prisoners] from them. In the month of Marcheswan the king of Akkad took personal command of his army and [marched] against the town of Ruggul[iti] and made an attack on the town, capturing it on the twenty-eighth day of the month of Marcheswan, not a man escaped.

In the twenty-first year ... Nebuchadrezzar his eldest son, the crown-prince, mustered (the Babylonian army) and took command of his troops; he marched to Carchemish which is on the bank of the Euphrates, and crossed the river (to go) against the Egyptian army which lay in Carchemish ..... fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and to non-existence [beat?] them.293

The section also contains some striking metaphors and similes. The rapidly advancing and voracious Chaldean forces are likened to swift leopards and fearsome wolves at evening,294 to a powerful eagle swooping down on its helpless prey, and to the simoon taking vast stores of sand as it sweeps along. The trope of the windstorm is then changed somewhat, now emphasizing the suddenness of the cessation of its fury and the implied havoc it has left behind.

The picture of Chaldean armed might is thus complete. Its armies have been portrayed as the finest and fiercest in the world, being capable of moving swiftly across vast stretches of land to strike the enemy. With his many successes in hand it is understandable that the Chaldean can be described as an arrogant bully who holds all his foes in contempt and mocks them. Such a one knows no god but strength (v. 10).

Habakkuk is informed, however, that God’s avenging host is not without responsibility. When nations make themselves and their own strength their only god rather than acknowledging the true God, who is their sponsor, they will be held guilty for their actions. Had Habakkuk listened as carefully to the last line of God’s answer as he did to the extended description of Judah’s chastiser, he might have avoided the second perplexity that gripped his soul, the report of which is contained in the verses that follow (1:12-2:1).295

Additional Notes

1:5 †The verb נָבַט(“look/observe”) had formed a critical part of Habakkuk’s complaint (v. 3), and God uses the same word in His reply. It thus serves as a literary hook between the first two sections. It will figure in the next portion as well (v. 13). Further hooks can be seen in מִשְׁפָּט (“justice/law,” vv. 4, 7) and חָמָס (“violence,” vv. 2, 9).

†For בַגּוֹים (“among the nations”) LXX reads οἱ καταφρονηταί (“O despisers”), perhaps reflecting a reading בֹגְדִים (“treacherous ones”). Paul retains the reading of LXX in his address at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:41), doubtless because of its familiarity there and therefore its suitability as a warning not to despise God’s offer of salvation.

†I have followed the suggestion of the NIV in translating תְּמָהוּ הִתַּמְּהוּ as “be utterly amazed,” a translation designed to retain the play on the root in the two imperatives in the simplest fashion. The play on verbal stems could of course reflect a contrast or progression in emphasis such as “be astonished,” “be dumbfounded” as suggested by some ancient and most modern versions.

פֹעַל פֹּעֵל (“I am working a work”): The LXX adds the personal pronoun ἐγὼ (“I”) to the phrase ad sensum, but such is not necessary in the Hebrew text because the personal pronoun is frequently omitted in cases where the subject has already been mentioned or is sufficiently clear from the context. Here the subject has been elided metri causa and because the thought anticipates the הִנְנִי (“behold me,” i.e., ”I am”) construed with the participle that occurs in the next verse.296 The same construction occurs in 2:10 with omission of the 2d masc. sing. pronoun.

כִּי (“if”): The conditional use of this particle is well established.297 Alternatively the line could be translated, “you will not believe (it) when it is reported (to you).”

1:6 כִּי (“for”): The particle could also be rendered as an asseverative: “yea/indeed.”298

הִנְנִי מֵקִים (“I am raising up”): This construction is often used to refer to future events, the details of which God is about to set in process. The following participle הַהוֹלֵךְ (“that sweeps across”) also has a future time reference.

כַּשְׂדִים (“Chaldeans”): Critical attempts to read Kittim and refer the term to the Greeks are devoid of manuscript support, despite 1QpHab’s interpretation as Kittim (meaning, however, the Romans). The text of the Qumran manuscript preserves the reading of the MT.

הַמַּר וְהַנִּמְהָר (“fierce and fiery”): Due to the play on letters and sounds in the Hebrew text the alliterative translation of the NJB has been followed. The Hebrew may be literally translated “bitter and speedy” (cf. LXX, KJV “bitter and hasty”). Since it is the Chaldeans’ disposition that is being characterized here, however, most commentators and versions have opted for such renderings as “fierce” or “ruthless” for מַר and “impetuous” for נִמְהָר.

1:7 †The description of the Chaldeans added here takes the form of personification, with the nation and its people, particularly its army, being viewed in the masc. sing. Therefore, the pronoun that follows ( הוּא) has been rendered accordingly. There is also an implied synecdoche here, the whole nation being reflected in the conduct of its army. Alternatively one might view הוּא as referring to the Chaldean king, the example par excellence of the Neo-Babylonian empire.

†The clause יֵצֵא ... מִמֶּנּוּ (lit. “from him [his justice/law and eminence] go out”) is best rendered ad sensum “(he is) a law and authority to himself” or “(he is) his own law and authority.” Thus the Chaldean knows no other law, whether divine or human, than himself and his own might (cf. v. 11). The word מִשְׁפָּט both forms a literary hook with vv. 2-4 and serves as a key stitch-word for the whole prophecy.

1:8 †The verb חָדַד means “be sharp/keen.” The difficulty of the image as applied to evening wolves has occasioned numerous suggestions such as “fiercer” (NIV, NJB), “quicker” (R. Smith; cf. LXX), more eager to attack” (NASB marginal note). The picture probably is that of the keen sensibilities of the wolf, alert to the prey and to every situation. As applied to horses it must refer to their skill and spiritedness in battle situations.

פָּרָשָׁיו (“his cavalry”; cf. NIV): The noun פָּרָשׁ means “horse” or “horseman.” Since Habakkuk has used סוּס for “horse” earlier in the verse and because the figure in the next line is better suited to horsemen than to horses, such is probably the intention in both instances. The translation given here follows the NIV in providing synonyms for the double occurrence of פָּרָשׁ

וּפָשׁוּ (“galloping on”): I have translated ad sensum with the NASB (cf. NIV, NJB). The precise nuance of the verb פּוּשׁ (“spring about”; cf. Nahum 3:18) is difficult. In other places (e.g., Jer. 50:11; Mal. 3:20) it is used for the gamboling of calves. The LXX translates it “mount.” R. Smith follows the lead of the text of 1QpHab in reading ופדשו for the second וּפָרָשָיו and translates the debated lines “his horses paw the ground, they spring forward, they come from afar.”299

†For נֶשֶׁר (“eagle”) some suggest the translation “vulture” (e.g., Laetsch, NIV). Although such a translation is admissible and serves the line well, if the image of “coming from afar” is carried through, the more traditional rendering here is perhaps better. The far-reaching Chaldeans are also compared to horses and eagles by Jeremiah (Jer. 4:13; 48:40; 49:22).

1:9מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם קָדִימָה: The clause is a difficult one. Ward gives it up as “untranslatable” and adds: “It is a corrupt intrusion; or, possibly represents the remnant of a member of a lost couplet.”300 Textual uncertainty is already evident in the ancient versions, whose attempts to translate ad sensum produced widely varying results. Modern efforts have proved no more convincing.301 The chief difficulties center in the first and third words. The former is a hapax legomenon that is generally considered to be derived from the root גמם (“be abundant/filled”; cf. Arabic jamma, “be/become abundant”). The precise nuance of the word has, however, been variously understood, some opting for the idea of eagerness (Laetsch, NASB marginal reading) on the part of the Chaldeans or the endeavor etched on their faces (Keil), others for the thought of totality (R. Smith, NEB). Accordingly the first two words are rendered “hordes” (NIV) or “horde of faces” (NASB; cf. R. Smith, “all of their faces”).

Final decision as to the translation of the first word is tied to that of the third word, which has been related to the idea of advancing, hence “moving forward” (NASB), or to the figure of the east wind (NJB), a suggestion found already in 1QpHab (cf. Vg). The latter solution is favored by the following figure of the gathering of captives like sand. The NIV attempts to retain both meanings for קָדִימָה by translating “Their hordes advance like a desert wind.”

Final certainty is lacking. The translation adopted here endeavors to strike a balance between the more probable meanings of the two debated words in the line and the flow of thought in the context. The disputed line builds not only on the following line with its reference to sand but the preceding line with its expression of total commitment: “All of them are bent on violence.” My suggestion is that the troublesome phrase מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם is related to the figure of totality in the preceding line and that the word קָדִימָה serves to fill out the meaning of its own line and is also chosen to form a paronomasia with the following line. So construed, while yielding the sense of “pressing forward” in its own line, the force of the word’s root relationship with קֶדֶם (“east wind”) forms an association of ideas anticipating the figure that follows in the next line. So understood the flow of thought in the three lines may be paraphrased:

With all of them bent on violence,

With every face set forward,302

They gather captives like the sand.

Thus the invincible Neo-Babylonian army will move forward as one unit, all of them bent on violence, all of them pressing forward as with a single face conquering and gathering captives like a colossal east wind that gathers untold quantities of sand.303

1:10 The twice-occurring הוּא (“he”) stands in anticipatory emphasis and refers either to the personified Chaldean nation or its king (see the exposition of 1:7).

עָפָר (“dust”) used with the verb צָבַר (“heap up”) in a presumed military context probably intends a description of a siege. The building of siege mounds as a battle tactic is widely attested both in the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Sam. 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32; Jer. 32:24; Ezek. 17:17) and in the extrabiblical literature of the ancient Near East. For example, in his third campaign that eventually took him to the gates of Jerusalem, Sennacherib boasts:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-tamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work.304

Verse 10 is marked by the frequent use (5 times) of the sound s, three of them occurring in successive words.

1:11 חָלַף רוּחַ (“a windstorm passes through”): Because רוּחַ is generally a feminine noun and is thus inappropriate as the subject of the masc. sing. verb here, the phrase is often translated as a simile, for example, “They sweep past like the wind” (NIV; cf. NASB). Because רוּחַ is also at times masculine (e.g., Ex. 10:13), however, it seems simplest to view it as a metaphor that is also the subject of the sentence (cf. NJB). The translation of אָז here as “suddenly,” although usually rendered as a temporal particle meaning “then,” “at that time,” is due to the context.

אָשֵׁם (“guilty”): The relation of the last clause to what precedes is difficult. Ward decides that it yields no reasonable sense and is corrupt.”305 Keil takes אָשֵׁם as a verb and translates it “offends.”306 Others take the form to mean “become guilty” (e.g., Laetsch, R. Smith). 1QpHab reads וישם (cf. BHS), which has been understood by some as a form derived from שִׂים (“set”; Humbert) and by others as being from שָׁמַם (“be desolate”; G. R. Driver, Brownlee). The translation suggested above retains אָשֵׁם as an adjective in predicate relation to the following subject clause, which is introduced by the explicative particle זוּ (“the one of”).307 Thus construed the line may be rendered, ”But he whose strength is his god is/will be held guilty” (cf. NASB, NJB).

C. Second Perplexity: How Can God Employ The Wicked Chaldeans? (1:12-2:1)

God’s answer and extended description of his agent of judgment against Judah puzzled his prophet. Habakkuk simply could not reconcile God’s use of the Chaldeans, a people more corrupt than those they were to judge, to punish His people. He begins his second perplexity with an invocation in which he expresses his consternation (v. 12). Not only did God’s announcement seem out of character for a holy God but the use of the Chaldeans provoked another thought. Once this plan was put into operation would not a helpless mankind always be at the mercy of these God-commissioned agents of chastisement (vv. 13-17)? Having voiced his complaint, the prophet reaffirms his confidence in God by placing himself in readiness for God’s answer to his latest question (2:1). God’s reply will occupy the rest of chap. 2.


Are You not from everlasting*, O LORD?

      My God, my Holy One*, we shall not die.

O LORD, You have appointed them to execute judgment*;

      O Rock, You have established them to reprove.

13Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;

      You cannot behold oppression.

Why do You behold the treacherous and keep silent*

      when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves,

14and so You make men* like the fish of the sea,

      like sea creatures* without a ruler?

15He pulls all of them up with a hook;

      he draws them in his net*,

      and he gathers them into his dragnet*.

Therefore, he rejoices and is glad.

16Therefore, he sacrifices to his net

      and burns incense to his dragnet;

for by them his catch is abundant*

      and his food plenteous*.

17Shall he therefore* keep on emptying his dragnet*

      and continually* slay nations unsparingly?

2:1I will stand* at my watch

      and station myself on the ramparts;

and I will keep watch* to see what He will say to me,

      and how I can reply according to my reproof.

Exegesis and Exposition

Like the previous statement of Habakkuk’s perplexity (vv. 2-4), this second account is cast in a lament genre: invocation (v. 12), statement of the problem (vv. 13-17), closing declaration of the prophet’s confidence in God (2:1). The section is marked by the normal elements of lament but also by the utilization of the root יכח ( ykh£, “reprove”) as a bookending device (1:12; 2:1). This section is joined to the previous one by the stitch-words מִשְׁפָּט ( mispa„t£, “justice, judgment”) and צַדִּיק ( sŒaddîq, “righteous”), which occur in close proximity in these sections (vv. 12, 13), and by similar employment of עָמָל ( àa„ma„l, “oppression”), רָאָה ( ra„áa‚, “look”), and נָבַט ( na„bat£, “behold”; v. 13; cf. vv. 3, 5). Thus, despite the emotional trauma that gripped the prophet through this troublesome time, the record of all that transpired has been preserved and presented in a highly artistic fashion.

The section opens, as did that containing his first perplexity, with a rhetorical question (cf. v. 2). Habakkuk reminds himself of God’s eternality and covenant relationship to Israel. By calling on Yahweh, Habakkuk states his awareness of the fact that God has seen it all. Despite any misgivings Habakkuk might have or will express, he makes clear his confidence in the Lord’s unique eternality. As such, God alone is sufficient for the current need. He not only is the eternally existent one but also has remained Israel’s covenant God since the days of the fathers (cf. Deut. 7:6; Ps. 89:1-37 [HB 89:2-38]). As T. McComiskey rightly points out, Israel’s spiritual experience was to be

an intimate relationship with God. The Lord would be their God, providing them with the protection and benefits expected in such a loving relationship. This great statement is the heart and soul of the promise because all the gracious benefits of the promise derive from the loving power and volition of God expressed in the intimate and mysterious relationship with him that the people of faith enjoy.308

Habakkuk also addresses God with other familiar names and titles. He is אֱלֹהִים ( áe†lo„hîm, “God”), the sovereign and preeminent one who is the creator, sustainer, and consummator of all history. Like YHWH, the name is especially linked to the patriarchs (Ex. 3:6) and Israel (Ps. 68:32-35 [HB 68:33-36]) but could be utilized also by individual believers (Ps. 63:1[HB 63:2]). Accordingly Habakkuk could rightly call the one in whom he trusted “my God.”

Habakkuk also calls God “my Holy One.” Because holiness is represented in the Scriptures as being the quintessential attribute of God (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), and hence is the dynamic of the believer’s ethic (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16), God is often called “the Holy One” (e.g., Job 6:10; cf. Isa. 57:15) and especially “the Holy One of Israel” (Pss. 71:22; 89:18 [HB 89:19]; and 26 times in Isaiah!). Consequently Habakkuk’s addressing God as “my Holy One” is quite in line with the thinking of mainstream orthodoxy. Keil rightly observes concerning these three titles that

the three predicates applied to God have equal weight in the question. The God to whom the prophet prays is Jehovah, the absolutely constant One, who is always the same in word and work (see at Gen. ii.4); He is also Elohai, my, i.e. Israel’s God, who from time immemorial has proved to the people whom He had chosen as His possession that He is their God; and קְדשִׁי, the Holy One of Israel, the absolutely Pure One, who cannot look upon evil, and therefore cannot endure that the wicked should devour the righteous (ver. 13).309

Habakkuk also calls God a Rock.* The word found here is often used symbolically of God Himself (cf. 1 Sam. 2:2) as a place of refuge (Ps. 18:2 [HB 18:3]) for the trusting believer (Deut. 32:15). To whom else could he turn? As Laetsch remarks, “Tossed about by agonizing doubts, the prophet clings with the hands of faith to the firm, immovable Rock of Ages.”310

Faced with the prospect of destructive judgment, perhaps even the death of the nation itself, Habakkuk cries out to Israel’s God, the Holy One of her salvation who alone is her refuge in such times (cf. Deut. 32:4; Pss. 31:1-3 [HB 31:2-4]; 71:3): “we shall not die!” The precise understanding of Habakkuk’s impassioned words is difficult to grasp. It has been treated in several ways. (1) The plain sense of the MT has been followed by most expositors and versions as a statement of the prophet’s confidence in God’s promises to Israel (e.g., Armerding, Keil). (2) Some follow the tradition of the Tiqqune sopherim that the older reading was “you shall not die” (e.g., Hayes, R. Smith; cf. BHS, NEB, NJB).311 (3) M. Dahood suggests a restructuring of the consonants of the text to read le„áo„n ma„wet (“the victor over death”).312 (4) A. J. O. vander Wal opts for a modal use of the imperfect: “we shall not die!”313 (5) One could also conceivably suggest that the phrase is a question. Thus Laetsch, following the MT, translates “we shall not die?!” and ties the understanding of the prophet’s words to the primeval statement of Gen. 3:15, the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:3; etc.), the predictions concerning Judah (Gen. 49:10-12), and the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7; etc.). He then remarks,

The deportation of the ten tribes (722 B.C.) had been an appalling calamity; but far more catastrophic would be the annihilation of Judah. Yet what God had just announced appeared to the prophet as the Supreme Judge’s death sentence upon Judah. In horrified shock he cries out, We shall not die! ... That cannot be, O God! That would contradict Thine own self-revelation, Thy very nature.314

In addition to Laetsch’s view of an implied negative answer one could suggest that the interrogative particle of the first line should be viewed as doing double duty in this line. So understood it would imply the negative הֲלֹא (“shall we not”) expecting a positive reply. In this case the prophet’s fear would be that, although God himself is eternal, such is not the case with Israel. Indeed, if the Chaldeans were to go on unchecked, would not Judah die and all the divine promises to Israel with it? The existence of the nation and God’s own reputation were at stake.

Since the MT makes good sense as it stands, it has been followed here. Moreover, the alternate suggestions have their own problems. The second view has no manuscript support and adds little or nothing to the flow of thought. The third and fourth suggestions are conjectural. The fifth alternative, while contextually helpful, does not commend itself despite Habakkuk’s use of double-duty interrogatives elsewhere (1:2, 13, 17; 2:7, 18), for these are all cases of compound sentences with the same subject. Taken at face value Habakkuk’s words are a statement of the prophet’s ultimate confidence in God. From a literary standpoint they anticipate the closing statement of confidence at the end of the section (2:1). From a theological viewpoint they reflect Habakkuk’s firm grasp of covenant truth: Despite Israel’s certain chastisement, God will remain faithful to His promise to the patriarchs (Gen. 17:2-8; 26:3-5; 28:13-15), to Israel (Ex. 3:3-15; 14:1-6; Deut. 7:6; 14:1-2; 26:16-18), and to the house of David (2 Sam. 7:12-29).

Despite the prophet’s confidence in God, he has reservations concerning the situation. Habakkuk has been shown that judgment and reproof* (or correction) must come, and he understands that the Lord is sending the Chaldeans for that purpose. Although he is committed to the truth of God’s abiding presence with Israel and the inviolability of the divine promises, Habakkuk the man has fears. Perhaps punishment at the hands of such a vicious people will prove to be too much. How could God use such a wicked nation to execute His purposes?

These problems are detailed in the verses that follow (vv. 13b-17). He begins with the latter concern. Again the matter of justice surfaces in Habakkuk’s thinking. While he understands the necessity of Judah’s judgment and the Chaldeans’ role, he cannot comprehend how a holy God can use a nation that is more wicked than the nation He desires to punish. God’s prophet seizes upon words that have been the focus of God’s presentation. God’s eyes are too pure to see evil; He cannot look upon oppression. Habakkuk had asked whether God really saw the oppression that His prophet gazed on in Judah (v. 3). God had told him to look out at the nations for what He was going to do (v. 5). Habakkuk now tells God that having seen what God was going to do he cannot “see” how God can look on silently when a treacherous, evil,* and more oppressive nation swallows up people that at least have some semblance of righteousness. Laetsch may be correct in suggesting that by “righteous” Habakkuk intends more particularly the believing remnant within Judah:

The prophet, of course, does not think here merely of civic righteousness. ... He thinks here of the small remnant of such as are righteous by faith in the promised Redeemer. Yet they must suffer together with the mass of unbelieving Jews, and in like manner, the inhuman cruelties of the Chaldeans. Why does God permit, and even decree, such a judgment? How does this agree with His holiness and justice?315

In any case Habakkuk takes his place beside many others, such as Job (Job 7:16-21; 9:21-24; 12:4-6; 21:1-16; 24:1-16, 21-25; 27:1-12), the psalmist Asaph (Ps. 73), Jeremiah (Jer. 11:18-19; 12:1-4; 15:15-18; 17:15-18; 20:7-18), and Malachi (Mal. 2:17), who questioned God as to His fairness in handling the problems of evil and injustice. Like these other questioners, Habakkuk will be shown the necessity of resting fully in God (Hab. 2:4, 20).

In answer to Habakkuk’s first perplexity, God had revealed that He would send the Chaldeans to deal with Judah’s sin (vv. 5-6). Because the Chaldeans were relatively unknown, He supplied a resume of their military capability (vv. 7-11). Habakkuk has a problem with both parts of God’s answer to his complaint. He has indicated his displeasure in God’s choice of the Chaldeans (v. 13). Now he reacts to the description of their ferocity (vv. 14-17). Granted the accuracy of God’s report, has He not turned loose upon a helpless mankind a voracious force that even He would be powerless to check?

Adopting the imagery of fishing, Habakkuk portrays the scenario that God has set in motion as one of fishermen (Chaldeans), who use their sophisticated and powerful hooks and nets (Neo-Babylonian military might and methods) to catch helpless fish and creatures of the sea (the various conquered peoples). The success of these Neo-Babylonian “fishermen” will only cause them to rejoice and have their appetites whetted for still greater pleasures. Elated by the fine catches (booty) they shall take, the Chaldeans will acknowledge allegiance to neither God nor man, finding their only “religion” in their raw military power.

Habakkuk’s fears were not unfounded, for the Chaldean war machine was effective enough not only to gain for them political dominance across the northern part of the Fertile Crescent and through the Levant to the borders of Egypt (Nebuchadnezzar would launch one foray into Egypt itself; cf. Jer. 43:10-11) but also to create the mighty Neo-Babylonian empire (cf. Dan. 2:37-38; 7:4) with the city of Babylon (Dan. 4:30) as the chief beneficiary. Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon would prove to be a spectacle of opulence. Bisected by the Euphrates River, access to Babylon was gained by nine major gates. The most famous of these, the Ishtar Gate, was flanked on either side by 40-foot towers. Through it the sacred processions of Nebuchadnezzar’s day proceeded to the Esagila temple via a paved street bordered by high walls decorated with brilliantly colored animals painted on a blue background. Ancient historians counted Nebuchadnezzar as the builder of the famed Hanging Gardens, heralded as one of the seven wonders of the world. Edwin Yamauchi calls Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon “the greatest city in the ancient world,” and Gerald Larue declares it “one of the most beautiful.”316

Babylon would also become a center of paganism. It would one day contain at least nine temples, the most famous of which were its ziggurat Etemenanki (“House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth”) and Esagila (“House of the Uplifted Head”), sacred to Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. D. J. Wiseman says of the main shrine of this temple complex,

Nabopolassar claimed to have redecorated the Marduk shrine with gypsum and silver alloy, which Nebuchadrezzar replaced with fine gold. The walls were studded with precious stones set in gold plate, and stone and lapis lazuli pillars supported cedar roof beams. The texts describe the god’s gilded bedchamber adjacent to the throne room.

Herodotus (i.183) described two statues of the god, one seated.... Herodotus was told that 800 talents (16.8 metric tons) of gold were used for these statues and for the table, throne, and footstool. A thousand talents of incense were burned annually at the festivals while innumerable sacrificial animals were brought in to the two golden altars, one used for large, the other for small victims.317

It is small wonder that the materialism and religious lust of Babylon were targets for the condemnation of Isaiah and Jeremiah, both of whom prophesied Babylon’s certain fall (Isa. 21:9) and total destruction (Isa. 13:19-22; Jer. 51:24-26). Thereafter the name “Babylon” became symbolic of a misspent materialism that stands in antagonism to the things of God (cf. Rev. 17-18).

For Habakkuk the focal point of the problem lay not just in the Chaldeans’ awesome success but in the fact that they were divinely commissioned warriors. It was God Himself who would raise them up (v. 6) and make expert “fishermen” of them (v. 14). Since God had thus empowered them, could He renounce His own work? Would not these “fishers of men” go on emptying and refilling their nets ad infinitum—conquering city after city and taking heavy booty? No, Habakkuk could not “see” any of this. Such a judgment on God’s people seemed unjust and overly harsh. Once begun it might never be terminated.

Nevertheless, Habakkuk ends his complaint with a renewed statement of his confidence in God (2:1). He also reports his intention to assume the role of a watchman. As the city watchman manned his post atop the walls to look for the approach of danger (Ezek. 33:2-6) or a messenger (2 Sam. 18:24-28; Isa. 21:6-8; 52:7-10), or to keep watch over current events (1 Sam. 14:16-17; 2 Kings 9:17-20), so the OT prophet looked for the communication of God’s will to the waiting people (Jer. 6:17; Ezek. 3:16-21; 33:7-9; Hos. 9:8). Habakkuk would assume the role of a prophetic watchman, taking his post on the ramparts* to watch* for the Lord’s reply. The word “watch” suggests an active, earnest waiting for the Lord’s message; the “ramparts” (cf. 2 Chron. 8:5; 11:5) imply that just as the civil watchman assumed a particular post on the city wall (cf. Nah. 2:1 [HB 2:2]), so the prophet had his assigned post of responsibility (cf. Jer. 1:17-19; Amos 3:6-7). Keil observes:

The words of our verse are to be taken figuratively, or internally, like the appointment of the watchman in Isa. xxi.6. The figure ... expresses the spiritual preparation of the prophet’s soul for hearing the word of God within, i.e. the collecting of his mind by quietly entering into himself, and meditating upon the word and testimonies of God.318

Habakkuk has taken issue with both the Lord’s plan to judge Judah by means of the Chaldeans and with the thought of using such a vicious people at all. The prophet doubtless had given God’s words careful thought and, because he could not see things from God’s point of view, knew that God would have some words of correction for him. He now no longer worries about the Lord’s lack of communication (cf. 1:2) but what sort of correction he will receive. He comes back to the word “reproof” with which he had begun his complaint (v. 12).

Habakkuk has expressed the fact that he understands God’s intention to use the Chaldeans as his agent of reproof to Judah for their own good. Now he similarly expects divine correction to his own difficulties. Where genuine doubt and perplexities exist, God patiently brings the needed reproof (cf. Jonah 4:10-11) and correction of man’s thinking (cf. Ps. 73:18-25). Such would also be Habakkuk’s experience (cf. 3:17-19).

The noun תּוֹכַחַת ( to‚kah£at) is used in one of two ways: (1) “argument” (Ps. 38:14 [HB 38:15]); or (2) “rebuke” (Ps. 39:11 [HB 39:12]; Ezek. 5:15), or “reproof that provides correction for living” (Prov. 1:23-25; 15:31-32). The meaning here could thus be either (1) “my argument” (cf. Job 13:6)—that is, what Habakkuk had just set before God (1:12-17)—or (2) “my correction/reproof” (cf. Ps. 73:14)—that is, the reproof that Habakkuk anticipates God will give him for his own good.

The critics and versions are divided as to the proper understanding here, the majority deciding for the first alternative (e.g., BDB, Craigie, Feinberg, Hayes, Laetsch, von Orelli, G. A. Smith, R. Smith, LXX, Vg, NIV, NJB, RSV) and others for the second (Armerding, Pusey, KJV, NIV marg., NKJV, NASB). Two factors must be considered in reaching a final choice: (1) whether the root יכח ( ykh£), which forms a bookending device to 1:12-2:1, is to be understood in the same way in both instances, or whether there is a repetition of the root for literary effect (such as a paronomasia); (2) the meaning of אָשִׁיב ( áa„sŒîb, “I shall reply”).

Those who choose the second alternative of the use of to„kah£at in this verse usually decide for an identity of meanings for the root יכח in both verses (e.g., Armerding, NASB); those who choose the first alternative do not (e.g., Keil, NIV). As for the problem of áa„sŒîb the form can be understood either as (1) the prophet’s reply to himself and his people with regard to his complaint (first alternative, so Keil) or (2) his reply to his anticipated reproof (second alternative, so Armerding). The difficulty of the first position on áa„sŒîb has perhaps occasioned the Syriac translation, “He will answer” (i.e., Habakkuk waits to see how God will answer his complaint; cf. R. Smith, NJB). Another possibility is to repoint the form in the MT as a qal passive, “I shall be answered” (i.e., the way Habakkuk would be answered by God concerning his complaint).319

The problem of the last line of 2:1 is thus complex. Despite the weight of the majority of scholarship that favors taking to„kah£at as “complaint,” I am inclined to take the second alternative: “reproof.” Especially telling is the probability that the root ykh£ is used to form an inclusio for the section 1:12-2:1. If so, it seems better to translate the root consistently rather than to adopt another explanation, such as an unprovable wordplay. Therefore, Habakkuk notes that the Chaldeans have been sent to reprove/correct the Judahites. Similarly he expects and deserves God’s correction concerning his doubts and his understanding of the full scope of God’s plans for the future.

Accordingly the verb áa„sŒîb most naturally suggests Habakkuk’s answers concerning God’s corrective reply.320 If all this is allowed, the suggestion of a confrontational stance by the prophet is softened. His position is thus that of a watchman in the king’s service manning the ramparts and waiting eagerly for the arrival of his master’s communiqué. Habakkuk expects that the message will bring correction and proper orientation to his anxieties. He is not so much challenging God with a complaint as he is desiring to have his perplexities alleviated and his viewpoint corrected.

Habakkuk also probably wanted to know God’s will and wisdom that he might respond properly to God’s correction and also communicate God’s intentions to others. The prophet’s reaction to God’s reproof would have a telling effect on his own spiritual condition and the effectiveness of his entire ministry. It was a crucial moment for God’s prophet, and he was to prove worthy of the test. C. Armerding puts it well: “He revealed a mature wisdom in his determination that this response be shaped by what God Himself would say. It is a wise man who takes his questions about God to God for the answers.”321 God’s answer was probably not long in coming. It was to carry with it crucial and extensive information (2:2-20).

Additional Notes

1:12מִקֶּדֶם means literally “from aforetime” but is usually employed in the sense of (1) “from of old” (Neh. 12:26; Ps. 77:11 [HB 77:12]; Isa. 45:21; 46:10), (2) “from most ancient times” (Ps. 74:12), or (3) “from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2 [HB 5:1]). Any of its common meanings is possible here, and each has its advocates. Thus R. Smith favors the first and the NJB the second. Most English versions and conservative expositors have followed the third alternative since the focus of the passage is more on God’s existence than on His past deeds (which come into view in chap. 3). The last option is probably the correct one.

†For the hapax legomenon קְדשִׁי (“my Holy One”) BHS suggests reading אֱלֹהֵי קָדְשִׁי (“my Holy God”). But the title “Holy One” here anticipates its use in the epic psalm of the third chapter (3:3). It is also appropriate as a basis for the ethical dimension of the present context.322

The word צוּר (“rock”) is often used symbolically of God Himself (cf. 1 Sam. 2:2) as a place of refuge (Ps. 18:2 [HB 18:3]) for the trusting believer (Deut. 32:15). סֶלַע, another word for “rock,” is used similarly.323 The image of God as a rock is applied to Christ in the NT (1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). BHS suggests reading צוּרִי (“my rock”), thus continuing the force of the suffix found earlier in the verse.

A few variant suggestions have been proposed for the latter part of the last line. The NJB and NIV translate לְהוֹכִיחַ (“to reprove/chastise”) “to punish,” NASB “to correct.” BHS follows 1QpHab in reading למוכיחו (“for his chastisement”). Since the root יכח reappears in 2:1 forming an inclusio for 1:12-2:1, the translation here will be affected by its understanding in 2:1.

For יְסַדְתּוֹ (“you have established them”), LXX ( ἔπλασεν) may have read the root יסר with the sense “fashion”: “he/it fashioned me for his/its instrument.”

1:13תַּחֲרִישׁ (“[Why ...] are you silent”): The asyndetic structure makes the question even more dramatic,324 rendering the addition of the conjunction in the Qere (cf. Pesh., Tg. Neb.) both unnecessary and inappropriate.

The identity of the wicked here has been the subject of some controversy and has played a role in the argument over the setting of the book (see introduction). If vv. 5-11 are excised as a late interpolation (e.g., Wellhausen, Giesebrecht), one could conceivably view the wicked in vv. 4, 13 as being the same. In such a case they could be identified not only with godless Judahites but also with Egyptians (G. A. Smith), Assyrians (Eissfeldt, Weiser), or Chaldeans (Sellin, Wellhausen).325 One could also follow Duhm in taking the wicked as the Greeks on the basis of the identification of the Kasdim with the Kittim (cf. v. 6).

By following the MT in v. 6, however, the wicked here must be the Chaldeans who are dubbed the fishermen in vv. 15-17. Thus they are not identical with the wicked in Judah of v. 4. Habakkuk’s argument is therefore a fortiori: As wicked as the Judahites were, they scarcely matched the Chaldeans for wickedness.

1:14אָדָם (“men”) is rendered as a collective noun. Several English translations (NJB, KJV, NKJV, NASB) translate the verse as though it continues the questioning begun in v. 13.

רֶמֶשׂ (“sea creatures”): Although usually used of creeping land creatures, it can refer to gliding sea animals (cf. Ps. 104:25), the sense demanded here.

1:15חֶרֶם (“dragnet”) and מִכְמֶרֶת (“fishnet”): The latter word can also be used of a hunter’s net (e.g., Mic. 7:2), as can its cognates מִכְמָר and מַכְמֹר both meaning “net” or “snare” (e.g., Isa. 51:20; Ps. 141:10). חֶרֶם is perhaps related to an Arabic root h£arama meaning “perforate,” whereas מִכְמֶרֶת is cognate to Akkadian kama„ru (“trap with a snare,” “net”).

Though precise differentation between the two words is difficult, Armerding seems to be correct in suggesting that “they appear to correspond to the two main types of net, the throw-net and the seine, used in NT times and up to the present in Palestine.”326 In this he reflects the opinion of most expositors and versions (e.g., KJV, NIV, NJB). This view is also supported by the distinction made in the LXX, which reads respectively ἀμφίβληστρον (“casting net”) and σαγήνη (“dragnet,” “sweep net”), words that remain distinguished into NT times (cf. Matt. 4:18-20 with 13:47-48).327 Keil, however, suggests that חֶרֶם refers to a net in general whereas מִכְמֶרֶת designates “the large fishing-net ( σαγήνη), the lower part of which when sunk, touches the bottom, whilst the upper part floats on the top of the water.”328 His view is reflected in the NASB, which translates the terms as “net and “fishing net.” Still another opinion is put forward by A. van Selms, who calls the מִכְמֶרֶת “a net cast from the shore, which falls flat on the water and sinks by means of leaden weights,” and חֶרֶם “a seine, leaded on one edge and provided with floats on the other; it is paid out from boats and gradually drawn in to the shore.”329 I have followed Armerding and the majority of scholars not only on the basis of the LXX but also because Ezekiel 47:10 seems to relate חֶרֶם to nets that are cast by fishermen standing on the shore, while מִכְמֶרֶת is mentioned by Isaiah (Isa. 19:8) as being employed by fishermen on the water.330

יִשְׂמַח וְיָגִיל (“he rejoices and is glad”): The verbs are two of several words in the OT for rejoicing. While the former verb appears to emphasize the general feeling of joyfulness of disposition that a person “feels all over,” the latter lays stress on the more emotional, enthusiastic, and, at times, spontaneous expression of joy. They are often used together to express total gladness, sometimes perhaps as hendiadys (cf. Pss. 14:7; 32:11; 53:6 [HB 53:7]; 1 Chron. 16:31).331 The words appear in parallelism in Ugaritic also, often as set pairs.332

1:16 יְזַבֵּחַ (“he sacrifices”) and יְקַטֵּר (“he burns incense”): These verbs are used in connection with the various worship services mentioned in the OT, but the former occurs only three times in contexts dealing with the proper worship of God (1 Kings 8:5; 2 Chron. 5:6; 30:22) and the latter probably never, although doubtful occurrences have been suggested in 1 Kings 22:43 (HB 22:44); 2 Kings 15:4, 35.333 Thus Armerding correctly observes that when these verbs occur together they always have connotations of illegitimate worship; hence “the prophet was complaining that the Babylonians were clearly guilty of according to their own power the honor and strength due to God alone.”334

שָׁמֵן and בְּרִאָה both mean “fat.” The translations “abundant” and “plenteous” are ad sensum. These adjectives testify to the luxurious lifestyle of the Chaldeans gained as a result of their rapacious looting. The NJB not inappropriately translates: “For by these they get a rich living and live off the fat of the land.” Though the root שָׁמֵן can be employed to describe God-given prosperity (Isa. 30:23; Ezek. 34:14), like its companion adjective (cf. the masc. sing. form בָּרִיא in Ps. 73:4) it can be employed with regard to the wicked who have gained their riches through ungodly living (Jer. 5:26-28; Ezek. 34:16).

1:17 †For חֶרְמוֹ (“his dragnet”) K. J. Cathcart, building on the use of the verb רִיק in Ps. 35:3, proposes a transposition of consonants to read romh£o‚ (“his spear”).335 More suggestive, however, is the reading of 1QpHab חרבו (“his sword”). Yet, whereas “sword” makes good sense with the verb “empty” and whereas the two words do occur together in the OT (e.g., Ex. 15:9; Lev. 26:33; Ezek. 12:14), the MT here preserves the imagery of fishing and the net found in the previous verses. The Chaldean “fishermen” keep emptying their loaded nets and continuing their fishing.

וְתָמִיד (“and continually”): BHS suggests the deletion of the conjunction as dittography. The conjunction is also absent from 1QpHab and Pesh. but read with the following negative: “Their sword is ever drawn to slay nations and does not spare (them).” The MT is the harsher reading and therefore probably to be retained. Its difficult syntax can be explained either by (1) understanding the Chaldeans as the subject of לֹא יַחְמוֹל (lit. “he does not spare”) employed with the ל of reference or respect (i.e., “he shall continually have no compassion with reference to slaying the nations”) or (2) viewing לֹא יַחְמוֹל as a circumstantial clause used as a substitute for an adverb (“unsparingly”) while taking לַהֲרֹג as an example of the utilization of the preposition ל with an infinitive construct in looser subordination with a gerundive effect that virtually takes the place of a finite verb, hence “slay” with the nuance of consequence or result.336 The latter is perhaps the better alternative.337 Armerding suggests that a double meaning of חָמַל is intended here, noting that this verb “is used of holding back or refraining from an action, and commonly of pity as the attitude that causes one to hold back or remove from harm. Both ideas are appropriate here.”338 Thus the Chaldeans are accused of continually slaying nations without sparing and without pity.

הַעַל כֵּן (“shall he therefore”): No sufficient reason exists for omitting the interrogative particle with the LXX, Pesh. and 1QpHab or for viewing the MT as composed of ה (an interrogative particle) + על (“Most High”) + כּן (“Just One”) and translating, with Dahood, “O Most High, Just One.”339

BDB observes that עַל־כֵּן introduces more customarily than לָכֵן (“therefore”) “the statement of a fact, rather than a declaration.340 That being the case, Habakkuk must be building his argument on the full flow of thought of these verses. He points out that because the rampaging Chaldean will gather his booty without restraint he will ”therefore” rejoice; because of his unbridled joy he will “therefore” worship only the might that has made him rich; “therefore,” wonders Habakkuk, will he go on forever and unabatedly in his looting and killing? Thus the three occurrences of עַל־כֵּן are for logical (almost a veiled sorites) and dramatic effect.

2:1אֶעֱמֹדָה (“I will stand”) is a qal cohortative of resolve or determination. The noun, מִשְׁמֶרֶת although used at times with reference to a general post (Isa. 28:8), stresses more the idea of watching as an activity (cf. Josh. 22:3) or as the object of such activity (cf. Deut. 11:1). Accordingly it is translated “watch” (KJV, NIV, RSV), whereas the place (but cf. Isa. 21:8) where such activity is carried on (i.e., a [guard] post; note NASB, NJB) is denoted by the cognate noun מִשְׁמָר (“guard post,” Neh. 4:3). Thus the emphasis here is probably more on the activity of standing watch, the place itself being supplied in the parallel line by מָצוֹר (“ramparts”).

†The verb צָפָה (“look at”) is used of a careful and scrutinizing look. It was particularly suited for the duties of the watchman manning the city’s walls or his tower. The participial form came to mean “watchman” (cf. 2 Kings 9:17-20). The figure of the watchman is often applied to the office and activities of the prophet (e.g., Isa. 52:7-10; Jer. 6:17; Ezek. 3:17). The imagery here is reminiscent of Isa. 21:6-8.

עַל־תּוֹכַחְתִּי (“concerning my reproof”): The phrase is probably deliberately placed to form a chiasmus with the opening עַל־מִשְׁמַרְתִּי.

The Prophet’s Perplexities and
God’s Explanations, Part Two
(Habakkuk 2:2-20)

For the prophet’s latest perplexity (1:12-2:1) a patient God has a ready reply: He is in control of all earth’s history, working through the ebb and flow of its changing historical scenes to the accomplishment of His wise and holy purposes. The challenge to Habakkuk is to respond in understanding and trust. The section begins with introductory matters (vv. 2-3), continues with basic principles that Habakkuk needs to keep in mind (v. 4), and contains a long discourse on the Chaldeans’ future demise (vv. 5, 6-20).

D. Second Explanation: God Controls All Nations According To His Purposes (2:2-20)

From a literary perspective, the chapter is carefully constructed (see introduction). The central focus is on the problems that disturbed God’s prophet: (1) How could a righteous God use a wicked people to chastise a people less wicked than themselves? (2) Could the rampaging of such a vicious nation ever be checked? God answers these two questions by pointing out that He is aware of the standards of righteousness attained by nations and individuals and thus will deal justly with all (v. 4). This means judgment also for the ungodly Chaldeans (v. 5), who are under His supervisory control (vv. 6-20). In relating God’s reply to his perplexities, Habakkuk ties it to the previous section by his skillful use of the stitch-words צַדִּיק ( s£addîq, “righteous[ness],” “just [one]”), בּוֹגֵד ( bo‚ge„d, “treacherous,” “betrays”), and אָסַף ( áa„sap, “gathers”), each of which portrays the Lord’s awareness of the clear distinctions between two classes of men and nations. The chapter, then, provides a dramatic contrast between the righteous, who live out their lives faithfully (v. 4b) and in humble submission to a holy God (v. 20), and the wicked, who will ultimately be punished because of their godlessness (vv. 4a, 5-19).

Other literary features command the reader’s attention: taunt songs/woe oracles (vv. 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20), proverb (v. 6), simile and metaphor (vv. 5, 7, 8, 15, 16), allegory (vv. 15-16), hendiadys (vv. 2, 3[?], 6[?]), metonymy and merismus (v. 5), personification (vv. 5, 11), rhetorical question (vv. 13, 18), alliteration (vv. 15, 18), assonance (vv. 2, 6, 7), paronomasia (v. 19), enjambment (v. 18), gender-matched parallelism (v. 5), and chiasmus (vv. 3, 4, 6, 9, 14, 16). Despite its difficulty of interpretation at places (e.g., v. 4; see Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4), it is a masterpiece of prophetic literature.

1. Preliminary Instructions (2:2-3)

Before God’s specific points of reply are given to Habakkuk, He has preliminary instructions for His prophet. The Lord’s commands are intended to prepare Habakkuk for The revelation of crucial issues relative to the operations of divine government (v. 4) that will introduce the discussion of the whole matter of Habakkuk’s concern: the disposition of the voracious Chaldeans (vv. 5, 6-20).


And the LORD answered me and said,

      “Write down the vision*

      and make it plain on tablets,

      so that the one who reads it may run.

3For the vision is a witness* to the appointed time;

      it testifies* to the end

      and will not prove false*.

If it tarries, wait for it;

      for it will come and* not be late*.”

Exegesis and Exposition

In reporting the Lord’s reply, Habakkuk stresses its personal nature: “The LORD answered me.” The prophet had laid his perplexity before the Lord, expecting divine correction (1:12-2:1). The Lord’s answer was given directly to and for Habakkuk, to help him understand. But because Habakkuk doubted the principles at work in the divine activity—just as many have doubted—the Lord’s answer also carried a charge, namely, that the Lord’s response was to be shared with all people.

Habakkuk was told to write* the issue of the divine reply upon tablets*. If Habakkuk was literally to write down the divine dispatch, the question arises as to its extent. Various suggestions have been offered, some identifying the text of the message with v. 4 (Craigie, Feinberg), some with vv. 4b-5 (Brownlee, Humbert), others with all of vv. 4 and 5 (Ward), and still others deciding that the length of the communication is uncertain (e.g., Laetsch).341

To reach a final solution one must consider the word “tablets.” Though these could be viewed as large stones, such as in the case of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:12; see Additional Notes), the author could intend small tablets of whatever material.342 That the word is plural could suggest multiple copies to be hand carried by men serving as heralds that others might hear the message (cf. Jer. 51:59-64). That the heralds would carry a written dispatch rather than an oral communication would emphasize the seriousness of the divine directive. If this was the case, the message was doubtless a short one, probably encompassing no more than v. 4. But to whom would these dispatches be carried? Would they go to Judah’s leaders (cf. Jer. 36), or perhaps to foreign nations (cf. Isa. 30:8)? Lack of clarity as to this latter question warns against too quickly adopting the idea of heralds carrying several tablets.

The message was to be written plainly* so that those who passed by* might be able to understand it and bear the news to others. Though the figure of reading and running may indicate the activity of a prophet (Keil) or may simply intend that all who pass by may read it (S. R. Driver, Feinberg, Laetsch), it raises again the possibility of the literary motif of a herald “whose role would thus be to ‘run with the message’ (cf. 1 Sam. 4:12; 2 Sam. 18:19-27; Esther 3:13, 15; 8:10, 14; Jer. 51:31).”343 That the text reads “he who reads it may run” rather than “he who runs may read” favors strongly the motif of the herald (NIV). But because not only Habakkuk but all who read God’s communication were to serve as heralds, all three of these views are in a sense complementary, the figure of the herald being adopted in order that prophets and all others might understand God’s Word and carry it on to others. The message was for all.

Perhaps the simplest solution, then, to the understanding of the passage is not to press any of the details of the context beyond their more obvious intent. It is enough to see that Habakkuk is given a personalized reply. Rather than being a mere answer or correction of his thinking, God’s Word is also a commission to further service. Whether or not he is literally to take tablets and write on them, he is to communicate a message of lasting importance. Everyone who reads or hears these words is to consider himself a herald of a significant communication intended for all people everywhere. Probably the precise words are to be found in verse 4, the latter part of which is of crucial significance. C. L. Feinberg observes that it “became the watchword of Christianity, is the key to the whole book of Habakkuk and is the central theme of all the Scriptures.”344

As further preparation for that central thesis of divine government, Habakkuk is given the reason for the urgency of the message: the revelation will find its culmination in God’s appointed time.* That period is reserved to God’s discretion and direction. For Habakkuk this lay in the future, even though its realization was already at work in his day (1:5). Indeed, the revelation was meant to stand as a witness that testified unerringly of God’s bringing His purposes to pass.

The immediate context naturally has to do with Judah’s vindication and the Chaldeans’ judgment (Hailey), but because this vital message that was to be shared with all (v. 4) is given as a basic truth upon which God’s governing of individuals and nations is built, the outworking of the details of the appointed time would serve as a harbinger for the future. Each successive application of the message would point to the final end (Feinberg, Keil), the last appointed time when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15; NIV). Then the application of the principles of the inscribed revelation will be seen to have been operative all along, a witness to God’s just handling of history.

Because the appointed time lay in the future, it might seem to be delayed or perhaps postponed indefinitely (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-4). If it seemed to tarry long, Habakkuk and all heralds were to wait patiently for its coming, for it would surely come. So it has been with all subsequent Habakkuks and heralds. As Craigie points out, each believer must keep in mind that God’s time is not man’s time:

Just as, in human life, the timing of certain actions and events is of crucial importance, so it is also in the divine scheme of things.... The apparent lack of divine action, which may cause faith to falter, is in reality only our inability to perceive the timing of divine action. We must try to learn Habakkuk’s lesson: “If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (verse 3).345

Additional Notes

2:2 †For חָזוֹן (“vision”) see the exposition of Nah. 1:1. Armerding observes that this noun is “almost invariably supersensory in nature,” hence follows NIV in translating it “revelation.”346 The divine command to inscribe the חָזוֹן for all to see supports this idea; therefore to translate “Read the revelation” would not be inappropriate.

וּבָאֵרּ ... כְּתוֹב (“write ... and make plain”) can be treated as hendiadys: “Write the vision plainly.” The traditional translation, however, may be more emphatic: “Write ... and (be sure to) make it plain.” The second imperative may refer either to the clarity of the understanding of the message or to its legibility. The accompanying reference to the writing material favors the latter.

הַלֻּתוֹת (“the tablets”): Ewald suggests that the tablets in question were customarily erected in marketplaces. Such tablets were set up so that public notices could be written on them. Similarly, Laetsch proposes that these tablets might have been erected in any public place, including locations along highways or in temple courts. Keil and Delitzsch think that the reference is general, the definite article referring to the particular tablets that Habakkuk was to inscribe. Though this observation is valid, Laetsch’s point concerning the erection of tablets has the advantage of historical parallel (cf. 1 Macc. 14:25-49). For other scriptural examples of the motif of revelation inscribed on tablets, see Isa. 8:1; 30:8; Jer. 17:1.

As for יָרוּץ (“he may run”), J. M. Holt suggests that this part of the command be taken metaphorically, the running being understood as living obediently (cf. Ps. 119:32; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:13-14).347 This proposal again raises the question of whether the command to write the revelation is to be understood literally or figuratively. The traditional interpretation takes the command to be literal and assumes that its main purpose is that of preserving (Armerding) or disseminating (Laetsch) the message. Keil opts for a figurative understanding, proposing that all of the passages dealing with prophetic activity and the writing on tablets are also to be understood figuratively:

We therefore prefer the figurative view, just as in the case of the command issued to Daniel, to shut up his prophecy and seal it (Dan. xii.4), inasmuch as the literal interpretation of the command, especially of the last words, would require that the table should be set up or hung out in some public place, and this cannot for a moment be thought of. The words simply express the thought, that the prophecy is to be laid to heart by all the people on account of its great importance, and that not merely in the present, but in the future also.348

Whether literal or figurative, certainly all of the emphases that the commentators have suggested are true to the test. The message is to be clearly understood, assimilated, preserved, and propagated. The imagery of running suggests that even the most hurried passerby may see and quickly understand it (S. R. Driver) and then herald its message to others. The idea of tablets brings to mind the lasting quality and applicability of a message that is geared for an “appointed time” (v. 3).

2:3 †For MT עוֹד (“yet”), read עֵד (“witness”).

לֹא יְכַזֵּב ... יָפֵחַ (“testifies ... will not prove false”). The translation proposed here (cf. NIV) follows the lead of Janzen, who cites the evidence of Proverbs (Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 14:5, 25; 19:5, 9), where יפח is used in connection with the speaking of truth or falsehood.349 In all but one of these (Prov. 12:17) it occurs in combination with כָּזַב. Common to these contexts also is the appearance of עֵד, giving a strong presumption for its reading here in the first line of the verse as suggested in the previous note.

Further support for all this comes from M. Dahood, who finds another parallel between עֵד and יפח in Ps. 27:12 that he relates to Ugaritic yph£, “witness,” “testifier.”350 Both Dahood and Janzen take yph£ as a noun rather than from פּוּחַ (“blow,” “breathe”) in all of the suggested instances as well as here, but the parallel with יְכַזֵּב argues strongly for a verbal form meaning “to speak” (cf. KJV, NIV), hence “testify/bear witness to.” Certainly this yields a better explanation than the traditional “pants for the end” (Keil, Laetsch) or “hastens” (NASB, RSV), which seem out of place in light of the following admonition concerning tarrying.

מוֹעֵד (“appointed time”) is commonly used to refer to a determined time or place, its specific reference depending on context. Although it occurs in Daniel in an eschatological setting (e.g., Dan. 11:35) in parallel (as here) with קִץ (“end”), such does not prejudge a messianic interpretation for this verse (see next additional note).351

כִּי־בֹא יָבֹא (“for it will come”): The LXX makes the subject to be masc. sing., whereas the noun ὅρασις that translates the subject (MT תָזוֹן is fem. sing. This is usually understood to indicate that the translators of the LXX intended a messianic understanding here: “Wait for him, for he will surely come.”352 Corroboration of this opinion is usually sought in the citation of the LXX by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:37-38) to prove his argument concerning the need for believers to persevere in their righteous service, keeping in mind Christ’s certain return.

Two matters need to be pointed out, however: (1) The author of Hebrews has changed the LXX ἐρχόμενος ἥξει (“he/it will surely come”) into ἐρχόμενος ἥξει (“he who comes,” or “the coming one shall come”). (2) The antecedent of the masc. sing. pronoun αὐτόν (“he/it”) could be the LXX’S previous masc. sing. noun χαιρὸν (“appointed time”). Thus the LXX translation of v. 3 could have intended,

Because the vision is yet for an appointed time,

      and it will appear at length and not in vain;

if it is late, wait for it,

      for it will surely come, it will not delay.353

Although the messianic application of the text of the LXX by the writer of Hebrews may be a proper interpretation, nevertheless the freedom with which the NT writers employed the text of the LXX to frame their arguments calls for caution in finding an overt messianic reference in the LXX at this point.354

יְאַתֵר (“be late,” translating ad sensum):355 The verb is placed so as to be arranged chiastically with “if it tarries” in the previous line, but the usual translation of the verb as “remain behind,” “tarry/delay” appears to be at variance with the sentiment of the line. Indeed, “be late” is a related nuance and is attested for this root elsewhere in Semitic.356

וְלֹא (“and [will] not”): The translation adopted here follows the Reading of LXX, Pesh., Vg, Tg. Neb., and 1QpHab.

2. Guiding Principles (2:4)

Habakkuk now is told the basic guiding principles upon which the operation of divine government unalterably proceeds until the coming of that final appointed time.357 The revelation of these truths will make clear the culpability of the Chaldeans (v. 5), whose woe is pronounced in the rest of the chapter (vv. 6-20).


Behold,* the one whose desires are not upright is arrogant,

      but the just will live* by his faith(fulness).358

Exegesis and Exposition

God informs Habakkuk of the characteristic makeup of the wicked.359 The latter’s basic problem is an underlying selfishness that shows itself in an arrogant and presumptuous attitude.360 Rejecting God, in his conceit he gives vent to affections not in line with God’s revealed standards. Therefore, it can be said that what he desires is not upright.

The word “upright” comes from a root used of being or going straight (cf. 1 Sam. 6:12), then of being or doing right (1 Chron. 13:4). As a verb or adjective the root is employed in ethical or moral contexts both of God’s own inherent righteousness (Deut. 32:4; 25:8; etc.) and that of his followers who, because they fear God (Job 1:1, 8), are declared to be upright in heart (2 Chron. 29:34; Pss. 7:10 [HB 7:11]; 32:11; 36:10 [HB 36:11]; 94:15; 97:11; Prov. 11:6). Such persons conduct their lives doing what is right in God’s sight (Ex. 15:26; Deut. 6:18; 12:28; 13:18; etc.).

While the upright pursue the path of righteousness before God, the case is different with the wicked. Such individuals refuse God’s instruction and lordship and seek to gratify their own desires (Prov. 12:15; 21:8, 29; 29:27).361

The basic OT teaching concerning this root comes through here also in Habakkuk: Spiritually, morally, and ethically the ungodly presumptuously ignore the path of God’s righteousness to follow the way of selfish desires in the everyday decisions of life. There is a distinct contrast when one considers the upright man. Because of his righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6; Isa. 61:10), he lives out his life in faith as well as in faithfulness to God and His commandments. In an ultimate sense, he alone really lives. As Delitzsch remarks:

It is not the sincerity, trustworthiness, or integrity of the righteous man, regarded as being virtues in themselves, which are in danger of being shaken and giving way in such times of tribulation, but, as we may see in the case of the prophet himself, his faith. To this, therefore, there is appended the great promise expressed in the one word יִהְיֶה.362

Such is ever the case. By being reminded of this truth, Habakkuk Can be assured that God follows a just principle of dealing with men and nations in accordance with their relationship to Him and His standards. Further, Habakkuk can be certain that God has abandoned neither that firm and fair rule nor the activities connected with being God. Is Habakkuk worried that those who are treacherous and wicked will consume those who are more righteous than they? Because God is a punisher of the godless and rewarder of life for the righteous, it is enough for Habakkuk to let God be God and live in humble trust in Him.363 Laetsch says it well:

Do not ask why I am using the wicked Chaldean to punish My people, righteous through faith. Leave that to Me, the all-wise God, who rules every detail of your entire life for your temporal and eternal welfare. Remain faithful, trust Me, and you shall live!364

Additional Notes

2:4 הִנֵּה (“lo/behold”): This particle is often used to introduce a new section or thought. As noted in the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4, it can often be followed by אַף כִּי (“further”) to form an argumentum a fortiori: “if . . . how much more.” Such seems to be the literary purpose here (see additional note to 2:5).

Because of the difficulties inherent in v. 4, some have suggested that הִנֵּה is to be treated in a different way, as for example a noun with a definite article ( הַנָּה, hanna‚, “the eminent man”365) or by combining it with the following verb as a niphal participle ( הַנֶּעֱלָף).366 But the juxtaposition of אַף כִּי . . . הִנֵּה in succeeding sentences makes such attempts tenuous at best.

יִחְיֶה (“[the just/righteous] will live”): E. B. Smick emphasizes that for the OT believer faith was a totality of all of man’s being and experiences, including the spiritual dimension. Accordingly a man’s quality of life “is decided by a right relationship to the righteous standards of the Word of God.” Thus it can be safely said, “By cleaving to God, the righteous have life (Hab. 2:4; cf. Amos 5:4, 14; Jer. 38:20).”367

3. Specific Applications (2:5-20)

The Lord now answers Habakkuk’s perplexity. Building on the principles of his righteous government just revealed (v. 4), he applies them to the case of the unrighteous Chaldean. He begins with a description of the life situation of the arrogant one, a depiction that refers to the Chaldean (v. 5). Because the desires of the Chaldean are not upright, his judgment will ultimately come. A series of five woes, given in the form of the ancient taunt song, further describes the unrighteous character of the Chaldean, for which he will one day be judged (vv. 6-20).

a. The case of the Chaldeans (2:5)

Indeed*, presumption* betrays an impetuous* man,

      and he is never at rest*,

so that he enlarges his desire* like Sheol*

      and like death he is never satisfied;

he gathers to himself all the nations

      and collects to himself all the peoples.

Exegesis and Exposition

Utilizing the divine pronouncement (v. 4) and building on its principles, God’s answer takes the form of an argumentum a fortiori: If it is true that the arrogant have ungodly desires and so, unlike the righteous, never come to enjoy the blessings of God, how much more certain is it that the qualities that accompany such an attitude will ultimately betray them!

In his sinful arrogance the wicked is betrayed by presumption. In his impetuousness he is ever restless, so that his selfish ambitions foster an unholy desire toward everyone and everything. So insatiable is his greed that it can be compared to the uncontrollable appetite of death, here personified as a voracious monster. As death and the grave continue their never-ending quest to swallow up life (until they in turn are conquered by the Life-giver, Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:55-57), so the Chaldean will swallow up all before him. In his aggression and expansion he will gather all nations and peoples under his control. Nevertheless, the underlying implication is clear: the Chaldean’s selfishness and success will prove to be his undoing.

The Lord’s words refer to Habakkuk’s fears and reaffirm his earlier description of the Chaldeans (1:9). The Lord does not minimize the coming danger. What Habakkuk must see, however, is that given the Lord’s principles of dealing with men, He will surely allow the Chaldeans to seal their own doom. As a just God He will ultimately deal with such an unrighteous nation, whose “desire is not upright in him,” as it deserves.

Additional Notes

2:5וְאַף כִּי (“indeed”): The compound particle is employed by Habakkuk to stand in syntactic relation to the הִנֵּה of the divine pronouncement (v. 4) in order to form an argumentum a fortiori.368 Laetsch observes that it “is most frequently used to introduce a climax, advancing from the lesser to the greater, ‘how much more,’ or an anti-climax, ‘how much less.’“369

הַיַּיִו (lit. “the wine”): The sudden introduction of wine as a betrayer has been questioned by many. Although some see here a reference to one of the sins that contributed to the demise of the Chaldeans,370 other solutions have been put forward. One suggestion was made by Emerton, who proposed repointing the MT to הוֹן (“wealth”), a reading found in 1QpHab.371 It is difficult, however, to see how wealth is more suitable to the context than wine. Houtsma372 proposed reading הַוָּן or הַיָּן (“proud man/presumptuous one”), while A. S. van der Woude373 postulated a verbal form יָהִין or הִיֵּן. This idea is attractive in that the verb הון (“be light,” hence in a derived stem probably “make light of,” “presume”) occurs in Deut. 1:41 where it replaces the verb עָפַל (cf. Hab. 2:4) in the earlier parallel text of Num. 14:44.

Although van der Woude’s suggestion struggles with other features of vv. 4-5, Houtsma’s view is both simple and contextually sound. (1) It allows the word in question to relate naturally to the following participle. (2) It anticipates the thought of its object, the impetuous man. (3) It finds support in some manuscripts of the LXX that read χατοιόμενος (“conceited”).374 (4) The rarity of an original reading הוּן here best explains a shift to the more familiar “wine” in both the MT and majority of the manuscripts of the LXX, as well as the appearance of “wealth” in 1QpHab.375 (5) It finds support in the parallel term עֻפְּלָה (“arrogant”) in the argumentation of vv. 4-5. Indeed, the probability of the reflection of two rare roots drawn from parallel Pentateuchal passages ( עפל, Num. 14:44; הון, Deut. 1:41) in one context is so unlikely that their appearance here is striking.

Though a plausible case can be made for the MT “wine,” Houtsma’s view is provisionally adopted here. Thus I suggest reading הַוָּן/ הַיָּן in the sense of “presumption.” So understood it forms an appropriate parallel with “arrogant” in v. 4 and provides a suitable flow to the rest of the sentence: “Presumption betrays an impetuous man.”

יָהִיר (“impetuous”): This adjective occurs elsewhere only in Prov. 21:24, where it is parallel to זֵד (“proud/insolent”). It is rendered by the LXX as καταφρονητής (“contemptuous”) and by the Pesh. as mara„h£a„ (“willful,” “presumptuous,” “headstrong”). Coupled with גֶּבֶר (“man”) and the following phrases it yields a picture of a strong-willed man whose presumption knows no rest, so that in his greed he enslaves all who come in contact with him. The choice of גֶּבֶר rather than other possible words for man is doubtless deliberate, emphasizing his personal strength, both physical and psychological.376

יִנְוֶה וְלֹא (“he is never at rest”): The verb here is a hapax legomenon, its meaning being variously assigned chiefly on the basis of the related noun נָוָה (“meadow/pasture”) and the adjective נָוֶה (“dwelling/abiding”) as well as by contextual constraints. Thus the NASB (cf. KJV, NKJV) renders it “He does not stay at home,” the NJB reads “He is forever on the move,” and R. Smith favors “He shall not survive.”377 The translation adopted here follows the NIV in the sense of “never takes pasture,” hence “is not at rest.” Possessed of a consuming ambition, the wicked is always on the move, never settling down.

שְׁאוֹל (“Sheol”): The rendering given above (cf. NASB, NJB) transliterates the MT without implication regarding its relation to the afterlife. The word has been variously translated here as either “grave” (NIV), “death” (KJV), “hell” (NKJV), or “underworld” (LXX, Vg). The variations reflect the wide differences of opinion among OT scholars as to the concept of the afterlife in OT times and the semantic range of this word. At the very least the meaning “grave” (cf. Gen. 37:35; Ps. 16:10; Hos. 13:14) and “place of the (wicked) dead” (Pss. 49:14 [HB 49:15]; 55:15 [HB 55:16]) are established for the OT, whatever one may believe as to the concept of an OT netherworld much like that found in the literature of Israel’s neighbors. I am personally convinced that Israel did not share the pagan concept of an underworld for all souls, nor did it espouse the so-called “two-compartment theory” that developed in intertestamental Judaism and the early church. That the OT teaches that at death believers could expect to live in the presence of God seems evident from the following texts: Job 14:14-15; 19:23-27; Pss. 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:14-15 (HB 49:15-16); 73:23-28; Dan. 12:2.378

If one were to choose a specific translation (rather than transliterating the word), the parallel with “death” in the following line would favor the NIV’s “grave” (cf. Hos. 13:14 with 1 Cor. 15:54-56; see also Isa. 28:15, 18; Ps. 6:5 [HB 6:6]). Indeed, the deliberate use of gender-matched parallelism here to express merismus indicates that such is probably the author’s intent.379 The greed of the wicked Chaldean is thus linked to the eventuality of death and the grave.

נַפְשׁוֹ (“his desire”): נֶפֶשׁ is variously translated here in the English versions as “appetite” (NASB, NJB), “greed” (RSV; cf. NIV), and “desire” (KJV, NKJV). In other contexts נֶפֶשׁ appears to refer to “throat” (Ps. 106:15) or “neck” (Pss. 57:6 [HB 57:7]; 69:1 [HB 69:2]) as well as to “soul” (Ps. 16:10) or “life” (Ps. 38:12 [HB 38:13]) or as a possible equivalent of a personal pronoun (Ps. 54:4, 5 [HB 54:5, 6]).380 At times it seems to represent the whole person (Lev. 17:10), so B. Waltke may well be correct in deciding that “nephesh means the whole self, a unity of flesh, will and vitality.”381

The translating of נֶפֶשׁ as “desire” in vv. 4-5 is an attempt to select a meaning suitable for both verses. The broad semantic range of this word, however, may indicate that all attempts to be overly precise with the meaning of נֶפֶשׁ are unnecessary.

נֶפֶשׁ serves as a stitch-word with the previous declaration of v. 4 and is repeated in v. 10. Other words/terms found in v. 5 that occur later in this section include שָׂבַע (v. 16) and the terms “nations” and “peoples” (vv. 6-8, 13).382

b. The first woe: The plundering Chaldean will be despoiled (2:6-8)

Habakkuk now divulges the divine estimation of the Chaldean. He gives that information in a series of woes recorded in the form of the ancient taunt song, which may be analyzed in terms of the following standard elements: invective, threat, and reason for the condemnation (see chart on p. 184).


Will not all of them* take up a taunt song* against him with ridicule* and riddles* for him? They will say,

“Woe to him who realizes increase with what is not his—for how long?—

      and makes himself wealthy by extortion*!

7Will not your creditors* rise up suddenly

      and your collectors* awaken,

      and you will become spoil for them?

8Because you have plundered* many nations,

      all the remainder of peoples will plunder you,

      because of the shedding of human blood

      and the violence against lands, cities,

      and all who inhabit them.”

Exegesis and Exposition

The Lord informs Habakkuk that all of the nations and peoples gathered into the Chaldeans’ net of conquest will take up songs against them. Using words drawn from the repertoire of wisdom literature, Habakkuk predicts the threat against the Chaldeans by means of “taunt song,” “ridicule,” and “riddle.” All three terms indicate that the Chaldeans’ former client kingdoms and victims will one day cast the Chaldeans’ once-proud boasts and claims back in their teeth with cleverly devised words intended to mock them.

Each of the five woes considers one or more of the Chaldeans’ sins (see chart). The first woe centers on the Chaldeans’ rapacity. The language recalls their multiplying of wealth at the expense of others. Their far-reaching conquests are amply documented. After their victories over the Assyrians at Carchemish in 605 B.C., capped by their

Habakkuk’s Five Woes (2:6-20)








v. 6

v. 9

v. 12

v. 15

v. 19a

Woe to the:








v. 7

v. 11

v. 13

v. 16

v. 19b

He will be:








v. 8

v. 10

v. 14

v. 17

vv. 18, 20

Grounded in:

Spoiling of the nations

Scheming against peoples

Surety of the knowledge of God

Stripping of man/nature

Supremacy of God

push down the Mediterranean coast after the fleeing Egyptians (the Assyrians’ supporters at Carchemish), the Chaldeans soon became masters of all Syro-Palestine. Other campaigns led Nebuchadnezzar to Asia Minor, Egypt (cf. Ezek. 29:19-21), and Arabia (cf. Jer. 49:28). Eventually the whole southern portion of the once-vast Assyrian empire lay under Chaldean control. The eagerness of the Chaldeans to take captive men and material wealth is often recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. The following citations are typical:

All the kings of the H¬atti-land came before him and he received their

      heavy tribute.

He marched to the city of Askelon and captured it in the month of


He captured its king and plundered it and carried off [spoil from

      it ......]

In the sixth year in the month of Kislev the king of Akkad mustered

      his army and marched to the H¬atti-land. From the H¬atti-land he

      sent out his companies,

and scouring the desert they took much plunder from the Arabs, their

      possessions, animals and gods. In the month of Adar the king

      returned to his own land.383

“How long will it go on?” Is the question Habakkuk’s own plaintive cry?384 Most expositors suggest that the question is that of the nations and peoples, perhaps out of a desire for relief from oppression (Keil), maybe out of indignation (Feinberg), or as an expression of sarcasm, the implication of which is “not for long” (Laetsch).385 Indeed, the proud Neo-Babylonian empire would last for less than a hundred years (626-539 B.C.), its demise occurring within a generation after the death of its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II, in 562 B.C.

The depth of the Chaldeans’ insensitivity toward others may be seen in that they add to their riches by extorting pledges from their debtors. Though such behavior would be particularly offensive to the people of Judah because it was condemned in the Torah, it would also be a violation against all mankind (cf. Job 24:3, 9-10). In any case, the charge is but an example of the Chaldeans’ unjust activities and provides entrée into the following metaphor taken from the world of finance.

Verse 7 reveals that those who had been so oppressed as to have even their basic necessities of life, given in honest pledge, confiscated by their Chaldean creditors now themselves become creditors. Because the Chaldeans took advantage of the nations through conquest and extortion, they will owe the nations a great deal. Thus the Chaldeans will accumulate a debt that must be repaid. One day the debt will be recalled, the nations arising suddenly and “calling in their loans.” They will send collectors who will press their claims for back payment with a force equal to that of the Chaldeans’ former violence. Because the term “creditors” ( נשְׁכִים, no„sŒeŒkîm) is related to the word for “interest” ( נֶשֶׁךְ, nesŒek), Keil suggests that “there would come upon the Chaldaean those who would demand back with interest . . . the capital of which he had unrighteously taken possession, just as he had unmercifully taken the goods of the nations from them by usury and pawn.”386 Whether or not this idea is present, the law of just retribution would be applied.

The suddenness of calling in the debt predicted here came to pass. Although the Persian King Cyrus the Great spent the early days of his reign securing the subservience of neighboring peoples, he would one day be ready to move swiftly. His conquest of the Medes in 550 B.C. opened a claim to all the former Median territory, an area that composed the northern portion of the former Assyrian empire. After Lydia fell to Cyrus in 546 B.C., Cyrus quickly subdued all of mainland Asia Minor and the adjacent Greek islands. Within a few short years, then, Cyrus found himself ruler of a territory that included all of the Iranian plateau westward across the northern Fertile Crescent and on to the Greek islands off the coast of Asia Minor. The next strike would take him against the Chaldeans, who capitulated rapidly after the loss of Babylon on October 13, 539 B.C.387 So great was the relief felt by all in that day that

Cyrus entered Babylon not as a conqueror but as liberator. The temples were not profaned and the safety of the city was guaranteed. Cyrus took as his title ‘King of Babylon, Sumer and Accad, and the four countries of the world’. He went further and claimed to have been chosen by Marduk as is shown in a Babylonian text: ‘Marduk gave thought to all the lands, he saw them and sought a righteous king, a king after his own heart whom he would lead by the hand. He called his name Cyrus, king of Anshan! and appointed him to be king over all things’.388

R. Ghirshman adds that

Cyrus presented himself to the Babylonian people not as a conqueror but as a liberator and the legitimate successor to the crown. . . . He restored to their temples all the statues of the gods which Nabonidus had brought into the capital and, at the great New Year Festival, following the custom of the Babylonian kings, he took the hand of the god Bel and by this gesture legalized the new line of Babylonian kings.389

Some have found difficulty relating the facts of history to the statement concerning the “remainder of the peoples” who would plunder the Chaldeans. The “remainder” could refer to those “nations that remain” (NJB), either those untouched by Chaldean conquest or those that survived in some fashion. Since the Hebrew word here “always denotes the remnant which is left after the deduction of a portion,”390 the term probably refers primarily to those peoples and nations within the Neo-Babylonian orbit that escaped annihilation. A reference to the Elamites could also be intended. The Chaldeans’ campaigning had included forays against the Elamites, and nominally the Iranian plateau, though unoccupied by the Chaldeans, was part of the Medo-Babylonian alliance. Whatever its referent, the term “remainder” is probably general and is certainly not inappropriate.

The chief point, then, is that the plundering Chaldean will eventually know the effects of plunder himself. He who had so misused others, conquering, looting, and enslaving many, will himself experience the conqueror’s heel and learn the sorrow of those whose men and possessions have been carried off as booty.

Habakkuk directs a further charge against the Chaldeans. In their quest for booty they would probably destroy all that was before them, be it country or city or human life itself. Too often they will shed innocent blood for the sake of their uncontrollable lust. Indeed, they will leave a trail of sorrow across the ancient Near East that would be easy to trace. Therefore, they who would shed the blood of so many and violently treat all who stand in their way would be guilty of crimes against all humanity. For that they must suffer the judgment of God. The principles in Obadiah’s pronouncement against the Edomites will also take effect against the Chaldeans: “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head” (Obad. 15, NIV).

Additional Notes

2:6 †The phrase כֻלָּם אֵלֶּה (lit. “these, all of them”) has stirred up controversy among the commentators. R. Smith comes to the crux of the issue:

There is no antecedent to “these, all of them” in v 6. The “nations” and “peoples” in v 5 seem to be the antecedent. But is it logical for the pagan nations to be pronouncing “woe” on the guilty one in the name of Yahweh of hosts (v 13)? Would the nations speak about the earth being filled with the knowledge of God as waters cover the sea (v 14), or would they condemn the making of idols? Probably not. If the words of the woes are inconsistent in the mouths of the nations how do we explain “these” and “all of them” in v 6?391

Smith appears to favor the thought that the woes are the expression of Habakkuk himself (so also Craigie, Freeman) or perhaps of everyone (reading כֻþ ה for כֻלָּם). F. C. Eiselen opts for Habakkuk, who is putting his words into the mouths of the nations.392 Keil decides for the true believers among the oppressed peoples, and many (e.g., Feinberg, Hailey, Laetsch, von Orelli; cf. NJB and the note in The NIV Study Bible) favor the nations as such. Perhaps the whole matter is somewhat academic, the problem arising chiefly due to the literary demands of the section. Pronounced by God and communicated by His prophet, these words and those that follow will also be on the lips of the nations and peoples who will suffer at the hands of the Chaldeans.

מָשָׁל (“taunt song”), מְלִיצָה (“ridicule”), and חִידוֹח (“riddles”) are words drawn from wisdom literature. The first is a generic term that has many English equivalents. Drawn from the circles of popular wisdom, it most commonly refers to pithy generalizations on common life situations and so is translated “proverb.”393 But it can be used in negative contexts, especially in predictions of doom expressed in a derisive manner, hence a taunt (cf. Isa. 14:4; Mic. 2:4).

Whereas מָשָׁל may intend to teach by drawing comparisons between matters that must be first apprehended if its full implications are to be grasped, the riddle gives instruction through enigma (cf. Judg. 14:12-19).394 It too can appear in a negative context (cf. Ezek. 17:2-10). מְלִיצָה is a mocking poem or satire destined to heap ridicule on the object of its scorn by allusive discourse.395 The occurrence of all three words together in Prov. 1:8 in a neutral context demonstrates that all three literary types were familiar tools available to the sage. Here they are brought together to indicate that the Chaldean will be condemned and caricatured by many a cunning remark.

For הוֹי (“woe”), see the additional note on Nah. 3:1. לּא־לוֹ (lit. “not to him,” i.e., “not his”) is elliptical for “that which is not his.” It forms a case of assonance with the chiastically arranged לוֹ . . . הֲלוֹא of the previous lines and anticipates the הֲלוֹא of v. 7. Syntactically it serves as the object of הַמַּרְבֶּה , hence the NIV: “piles up stolen goods.” עַר־מָחַי (“how long”) is parenthetical and is, in a sense, an incompletely formed sentence in its own right.396

עַבְטִיט (“extortion”) is a hapax legomenon from the root עבט (“take/give in pledge”), itself usually considered to be denominative from עֲבוֹט (“pledge”; cf. Akkadian ebut£t£u “loan”).397

Strict legislation regulated matters concerning the confiscation of pledges in the OT (cf. Ex. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:6, 10-13 with Job 22:6; 24:3, 9-10) as befitting a benevolent society in covenant relation with God. The violation of such laws was considered to be a grave moral offense (Job 22:6; Amos 2:8).398 The Chaldean is vilified for the inhumane practice of enriching himself by confiscating things taken in pledge. Keil suggests the presence of a double entendre here based upon the composition of עַבְטִיט from עַב (“clod,” “mass”) and טִיט (“dirt”). So understood it would symbolize the burden that the Chaldean will place on his victim, or perhaps it indicates the vast real estate the Neo-Babylonian empire will appropriate.399

2:7נשְׁכֶיךָ (lit. “those who bite you” [cf. KJV]; hence, “creditors” [cf. NASB, NJB, NKJV]): Although some prefer the image of debtors who rise up against their creditors (NIV, RSV), a turn in the thought appears more likely here, the trope being that of the debtor who, because he has been unjustly taken advantage of, has been accumulating an obligation from his creditor. Hence, he now becomes the creditor, one who will violently press his claims through his collectors ( מְזַעְזְעִים, lit. “shakers,” from זוּעַ, “quake/tremble”), despoiling his former creditors.400

2:8 †The verb שָׁלָה (“draw out,” “extort”) is used as a synonym for שָׁסָה (“spoil”) in the previous verse. Accordingly I have translated it “plundered” (cf. NIV, NJB, NKJV, RSV).

c. The second woe: The plotting Chaldean will be denounced (2:9-11)

“Woe to him who accrues evil gain to his house

      (in order) to set his nest on high,

      (so as) to escape* from the grasp of disaster!*

10You have plotted shame for your house

      by cutting off many peoples

      and sinning against yourself*.

11Surely stones from the wall will cry out,

      and the wooden rafters* will call back.”

Exegesis and Exposition

The second woe underscores the Chaldeans’ capacity for cunning schemes against mankind. Building upon the imagery in the first woe, the Chaldean is portrayed as one who achieves wealth through violence and evil means. Used as a verb, the root בצע ( bs£à, lit. “cut/break off”) means “gain one’s end through violence,” while as a noun it signifies “gain made by violence.” Both occur here together for emphasis (cognate accusative), the picture being further strengthened by the addition of the adjective “evil.” A play on the root meaning may be intended: by violently accruing unjust gain for their “house,”* the Chaldeans may have “cut off” their own “house” with evil. If so, the thought anticipates the reason for the Chaldeans’ demise given in v. 10.

The verse proceeds with a reference to the Chaldeans’ building projects. An implied comparison with the eagle is probably intended. If so, just as an eagle seeks security by building his nest on the upper-most cliffs, so the Chaldeans will raise high—that is, strengthen mightily—their fortifications (cf. Jer. 49:16; Obad. 4). Although Nebuchadnezzar mentions such fortifying work elsewhere, it was particularly true of Babylon, which he enclosed with two massive walls, the outermost of which was surrounded by a moat on its east side that stretched westward to the Euphrates on the city’s northern and southern sides. The words concerning the desire to “escape from the grasp of disaster” are well illustrated in Nebuchadnezzar’s chronicles:

I brought to completion Imgur-Bel, the great wall of Babylon, the city of the great lord Marduk. At the thresholds of the city-gates I stationed strong wild-bulls of bronze, and serpents standing erect. I dug its moat and reached the bottom of the water. I built its bank with bitumen and burned brick. I had the bulwark (?) at the bank of the mighty wall built with bitumen and burned brick, like a mountain, so that it could not be moved.

In order to strengthen the watchtower of Esagila, that the enemy and the destroyer might not approach Babylon, I threw around the city on the outer wall of Babylon a strong wall toward the east. I dug its moat and raised its bank with bitumen and burned brick mountain-high. By the side of Babylon I constructed a dike of great masses of earth, and surrounded it with a mighty stream of many waters like the fulness of the sea, and then I threw a swamp around this. To . . . . . the life of the people of Babylon . . . . . among the cities of Sumer and Akkad I made its name great.401

Nebuchadnezzar was proud of Babylon, which he made into one of the most formidable and beautiful cities in the ancient world (cf. Dan. 4:29-30). Upon entering through one of its eight ornamented gates, a visitor was able to travel about the city on wide, well-kept streets. Among the many impressive buildings were dozens of temples and, of course, Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. The palace complex was lavishly furnished and enclosed with a wall 136 feet thick. In the outer course of the wall, Nebuchadnezzar had his name inscribed on each brick. The terraced hanging gardens are said to have been located in the northeast angle of the palace complex and were considered in ancient times to be one of the seven wonders of the world. It is understandable, then, that Nebuchadnezzar named his palace “The Marvel of Mankind.”402

The woe now moves on to reveal the reason for the Chaldean’s doom: his constant scheming against others. Keil puts it well: “His determination to establish his house, and make it firm and lofty by evil gain, will bring shame to his house, and instead of honour and lasting glory, only shame and ruin.”403 By cutting off—degrading and destroying—many peoples, the Chaldean will sin against himself, sealing his own judgment before God. He too will be cut off forever. As Hailey remarks,

In “cutting off many peoples” to accomplish his end, he had sinned against his soul. God may use a ruler and nation to accomplish His purpose, but the man will be guilty of his cruel deeds, for he is responsible for the character he developed.404

The Chaldean was to have no lasting empire. His arrogant misuse of others and his selfish scheming against them for his own aggrandizement would one day backfire. Even the building materials in the proud city could not be silent. Though men may keep still, they who were mute witnesses to all of the Chaldean’s greedy and grandiose plots could not. In a fallen Babylon would lie the collapsed edifice of the Neo-Babylonian empire:

In the creaking of the beams connecting the “timber,” the woodwork of the roof, and in the grating of the cracking stone walls (v. 11), one can hear an awesome dirge, the stones intoning the chant, the beams responding in antiphonal death song, until they also crash down into a heap of ruins and ashes. . . . Sic transit gloria mundi.405

Additional Notes

2:9 רַע (“evil”) is chiastically arranged with its reappearance in the third line. בַּיִח (“house”) means here “family” and/or “dynasty.”

לְהִנָּצֵל (“to escape”): The niphal infinitive construct may be translated as a direct middle (“save himself,” “escape”) or as a passive (“be delivered”).

מִכַּף־רָע (lit. “from an evil hand”) has been variously rendered ad sensum as “hand of calamity” (NASB), “power of disaster/evil” (NKJV, KJV), “clutches of ruin” (NIV), “reach of harm/misfortune” (RSV, NJB). The translation above follows Laetsch’s picturesque “grasp of disaster.”

2:10חוֹטֵא (“sin”): The translation above follows the normal significance of the verb (cf. LXX, KJV, NKJV, NASB). Some, however, point to the metonymy here and translate with the following נַפְשֶׁךָ “forfeiting your life” (cf. NIV, RSV) or paraphrase the line as “You have worked your own ruin” (NJB). The persistent problem of translating נֶפֶשׁ can be seen in the different renditions of the versions: “your soul” (NKJV, cf. KJV), “your life” (NIV), “yourself” (NASB).406

2:11מֵעֵץ כָּפִיס (“wooden rafters”): כָּפִיס is commonly considered to be a (main) beam of a building (cf. KJV, NKJV, NIV, NJB, RSV). The NASB, however, proposes “rafters” (cf. KB-3). Since the word is a hapax legomenon, its appearance with עֵץ here could conceivably imply any interior use of wood. The above translation notes the correspondence with the “stones from the (outer) walls” of the parallel line as demanding reference to a foundational framework. I have followed the suggestion of the NASB because in ancient Mesopotamia the ceiling needed wood to augment the brick walls. Thus understood, מִן introduces a genitive of material or content (i.e., “rafters made from timbers,” hence “wooden rafters”).

The importance of wood in Mesopotamian buildings may be seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s account of enlarging the palace built by his father Nabopolassar:

I built a structure of burned brick, and I built very high in its tower a large chamber with bitumen and burned brick for my royal dwelling-place, and joined it to my father’s palace, and in a prosperous month, on a favourable day, I firmly laid its foundation in the bowels of the earth, and I raised high its turrets like a mountain. On the fifteenth day I brought to completion its construction, and I beautified the dwelling of my lordship. Mighty cedar trees from the snow-capped mountains, ashuhu trees with broad trunks, and cypress trees (with) costly stones, I laid in rows for its roofing.407

d. The third woe: The pillaging Chaldean will be destroyed (2:12-14)

“Woe to him who builds the city with bloodshed

      and establishes a town by injustice*!

13Is it not therefore* from Yahweh Sabaoth

      that people(s) toil for the sake of fire

      and nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

14For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge

      of the glory of the Lord,

      as the waters cover the sea.

Exegesis and Exposition

Again the discussion proceeds upon the basis of the previous woe. The image of building found in the second woe is continued in the third. Now the chief materials used in constructing the Neo-Babylonian “house” are seen for what they are: bloodshed and injustice. The Chaldeans are again (cf. v. 8) charged with the wanton shedding of blood. It is a persistent accusation (cf. v. 17). To this is added a notice of their unrighteousness. The Hebrew word suggests wrongdoing and injustice of all sorts, often taking the form of oppressive, shameful, and sometimes violent acts (cf. 2 Sam. 3:34; Mic. 3:10).408 Such conduct is an affront to a holy and righteous God (Deut. 32:4) and marks the Chaldeans as those who, unlike the righteous who reflect God’s standards, are arrogant and presumptuous. Giving way to impetuousness, they perform acts that are unrighteous.

The Neo-Babylonian inscriptions often attest the Chaldeans’ preoccupation with building projects. So dedicated were they to such matters that Nabopolassar compelled his own son to do hard physical labor in the building of Etemenanki, the temple tower of Babylon.409 Nebuchadnezzar inherited his father’s passion for building, and his inscriptions recount many incidents of building projects.410 On one occasion he proclaimed: “The building of the cities for gods and goddesses, with which the great lord, Marduk, had charged me, and to which he had incited my heart, reverently I did not cease until I finished their construction.”411 R. W. Rogers justly observes: “Nebuchadnezzar based his chief claim to posterity’s remembrance upon his great works of building all over Babylonia, but especially in Babylon itself.”412

Nevertheless, God denounces all of this splendor. He sees the atrocities by which the Chaldeans will aggrandize themselves in building lavishly endowed cities:

Babylon’s magnificent palaces, its costly temples, its grand processional street, aroused the awe and wonder of all visitors, and its mountain-high walls forced upon them the impossibility of conquering this city. Yet the Lord Jehovah was unimpressed by Babylon’s strength and grandeur. He saw only the blood of untold numbers of people who were slaughtered in ruthless warfare in order to obtain the means which made these buildings possible. He saw only the iniquity, the perversity, the crookedness of the builders.413

As invective turns to threat, Habakkuk records the Lord’s rhetorical question: Will not Yahweh Sabaoth see to it that all the toil* and exhausting work* spent on raising great monuments, edifices erected on bloodshed and adorned with the mortar of injustice, will come to nothing? The proud Babylonian cities will know the conqueror’s torch and be reduced to emptiness. All that effort will prove to be valueless; being rewarded in the end only by fire,* it will all be in vain. Not only the Chaldean cities but also the Neo-Babylonian empire itself was destined for extinction.

The city that is built on a foundation of iniquity and constructed at the expense of bloodshed cannot flourish; all will be for nought. Although the prophet refers to the construction of a city, his language is probably metaphorical for the construction of an empire.414

Jeremiah’s words reinforce those of Habakkuk:

The arrogant one will stumble and fall

      and no one will help her up;

I will kindle a fire in her towns

      that will consume all who are around her.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is what the LORD Almighty says:

“Babylon’s thick wall will be leveled

      and her high gates set on fire;

the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing,

      the nations’ labor is only fuel for the flames.”

(Jer. 50:32; 51:58, NIV)

Not only for her unbridled arrogance but also because God’s purposes include a universal experiencing of His own glory* must Babylon (and all such wicked people) be judged. The words of v. 14 are adapted from Isa. 11:9 (Num. 14:21). Isaiah’s prophecy looks ahead to the great messianic era in all its fullness and perfection; Habakkuk uses Isaiah’s prophecy to validate the pronouncement of the destruction of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Because the Chaldeans will glorify only themselves and the gods of human manufacture (whose temples they would adorn and maintain), they will scorn the living and true God and rob Him of His worship. If God is to be received fully on earth as in heaven, the earth must be filled “with the knowledge of [His] glory” (v. 14). Isaiah’s prophecy is thus personalized for the Chaldeans.

The prophetic words are a reminder that all other glory-seekers shall be silenced that God may have His rightful preeminence (cf. Isa. 48:11). Accordingly God’s glory must be accompanied by judgment (cf. Ezek. 39:4-24). Babylon’s judgment, then, must come (cf. Isa. 13:19), as well as that of all future “Babylons,” whom God will destroy (cf. Rev. 17-18) and over whom the Messiah will be victorious at His coming (Ezek. 38-39; Zech. 14:1-5; Rev. 19:11-21).

By God’s glory is meant His magnificence. In relation to man, the word is commonly used to depict His self-manifestation by which His inner excellence becomes visible. Further, glory lies behind all of His activities. As Erickson writes, “In the ultimate sense, the purpose of God’s plan is God’s glory. This is the highest of all values, and the one great motivating factor in all that God has chosen and done.”415 The term is also used of the intrinsic honor that is due Him (Pss. 66:2; 79:9) and that is proper and essential for man to give (Ps. 66:7-8; Jer. 13:16). Thus for the Chaldean to honor self rather than the one God of the universe was to fail to achieve the primary purpose of man (cf. Isa. 42:8; 48:11) and therefore to be culpable before God (cf. 1 Sam. 8:7; 10:17-19; 12:19).

The glory of the Lord that filled the Tabernacle at its inauguration (Ex. 40:34, 35) and the Temple at its dedication (1 Kings 8:10-12), that attended the announcement of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:9-14) and is reflected in the lives of believers who have been taken into union with Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) will one day be known and experienced by all (Isa. 59:19) who confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). In light of all of this, Erickson’s admonition is fitting:

If we have fully understood who and what God is, we will see him as the supreme being. We will make him the Lord, the one who is to be pleased, and whose will is to be done.... He is the almighty and loving Lord. He has created us, not we him, and we exist for his glory, not he for ours. We will stand before him in the last judgment, not he before us.416

Additional Notes

2:12עַוְלָה (“injustice,” “unrighteousness”): The root also appears as a masculine noun with little or nodifference in meaning. Commenting on the masculine noun, Girdlestone remarks: “The word ... is thought to designate the want of integrity and rectitude which is the accompaniment, if not the essential part, of wrong-doing.” He goes on to point out that this noun is also translated “iniquity” in “about thirty passages” where the stress is upon “a departure from that which is equal and right.”417

G. H. Livingston portrays something of the viciousness of these words by displaying the company they keep. At times they are parallel to words that are translated “afflict,” “bloodshed,” “deceitful,” “iniquity,” “lie,” “ruthlessness,” “transgression,” “treachery,” “violent acts,” and “wickedness,” while serving as antonyms to such nouns as “faithfulness,” “honesty,” “justice,” righteousness,” and “uprightness.”418 Indeed, both the masculine and feminine nouns are clearly distinguished from צֶדֶק and צְדָקָה (“righteous[ness]”; cf. Prov. 29:27). The words, then, depict a moral quality that stands in contrast to the righteous character of God and the standard of behavior expected of His children (cf. Deut. 25:16; 32:4; Zeph. 3:13).

2:13 †The interjection הִנֵּה (“lo/behold”; cf. KJV, NKJV, RSV) is better rendered here as an emphatic particle (NASB) or regarded as a flavoring particle and left untranslated (NIV). Luther, however, is probably on the right track in translating it as an inferential particle: “Wird’s nicht also ... geschehen?” (“Will it not therefore come to pass?”). So viewed, the question introduces a solution drawn from the antecedent observations. Because of the Chaldeans’ violent acts, will not God see to it that they (or any such nation) will exhaust themselves in vain?

צְבָאוֹח יהוה (“Yahweh Sabaoth”): This divine title is often rendered “LORD of Hosts.” It can also be translated “LORD Almighty.”419

The synonyms יָגַע and יָעַף (“toil” and “exhaust oneself” denote the effort and wearisome effects of hard work. The person so engaged is left with the fatigue that borders on being overcome with fainting. The Scriptures warn against the kind of labor that, like the Chaldeans, strives for wealth as an end in itself (Prov. 23:4).

The synonyms עַמִּים and לְאֻמִּים (“peoples” and “nations”) also commonly occur together as parallel terms. Whereas the former speaks of a group of people considered in and of itself (or of people in general), the latter emphasizes the group considered as a whole unit.420

2:14 יָם|| הָאָרֶץ (“the earth” || “sea”). M. Dahood proposes these two nouns as set parallel pairs whenever they occur, as here, in chiastic arrangement.421

כָּבוֹד (“glory”) refers to God’s self-manifestation in visible and active presence among men as opposed to God’s transcendence, for which יָשַׁב (“he dwelled”) was used. Both stand in distinction from Shekinah, the late technical term for God’s immanence.422

e. The fourth woe: The perverting Chaldean will be disgraced (2:15-17)

“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,

      pouring out* your wrath* and also* getting them drunk

      so as to look upon their nakedness!

16You will be filled with shame* rather than glory.

      Now, you drink and expose yourself!

The cup* of the LORD’s right hand will come around to you,

      and utter disgrace* will cover your glory.

17For the violence you will do to Lebanon will overwhelm you,

      and your destruction of animals will terrify (you)* because of the shedding of human blood

      and the violence against lands, cities, and all who inhabit them.”

Exegesis and Exposition

The tie between the third and fourth woes is not as pronounced as between the first and second or the second and third. However, they do have in common a reference to a city (or town, vv. 12, 17). In reviewing the first four woes, an alternating pattern of condemnation may be observed: the first and third woes deal primarily with overt acts, whereas the second and fourth mention motives. The first and fourth woes have in common the phrase “because of the shedding of human blood and the violence against lands, cities, and all who inhabit them” (vv. 8, 17).

The fourth woe begins with an invective formed with a strong metaphor. The Chaldean is a man who gives his neighbor (strong) drink in seeming hospitality. The metaphor quickly gives way to allegory. The apparently innocent cup contains a draught of wrath, for it is designed to get its partaker drunk. Drunkenness is not alone the motive of the untrustworthy friend. Having got his neighbor drunk, he denudes him.

As invective turns to threat (v. 16) the allegory depicts the giver of the drink as one who is forced to imbibe of his own drink and suffer the disgrace of exposure. Several familiar biblical motifs and expressions are contained in vv. 15-16. The cup as a motif of judgment is well attested elsewhere (e.g., Pss. 11:6; 75:8 [HB 75:9]; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-28; 49:12; Ezek. 23:31-34). Particularly enlightening for the understanding of Habakkuk’s fourth woe is Jeremiah’s use of the cup to portray God’s relation with Babylon (Jer. 51:6-8). For Jeremiah, Babylon is God’s cup, a golden cup (cf. Daniel’s head of gold, Dan. 2:36-38), which in God’s hand had passed on His judgment to the nations. Those who drink of that cup lose all sense of perspective and become oblivious to the danger they are in. But Babylon will become a broken cup, for she will be smashed and never repaired.

Habakkuk makes the same point, although the image is slightly different. The Chaldean will be God’s cup of judgment (cf. 1:5-11), but rather than being conscious of his privileged responsibility, the Chaldean will use his position to take advantage of others and enslave them politically and economically.

The image of shame is heightened by the double figure of drunkenness and nakedness (cf. Gen. 9:21-23). The first is condemned both by our Lord (Luke 21:34) and elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Eph. 5:18). Nakedness is likened to a shameful thing (cf. Gen. 2:25 with 3:7), and he who was stripped of clothing felt degraded (2 Sam. 10:4; Ezek. 16:39; 23:29). Both figures are used elsewhere to symbolize divine judgment (Nah. 3:5, 11). All three symbols occur together in Lam. 4:21 where Jeremiah portrays the Israelites’ taunt of Edom. That nation, which had so often taken advantage of Israel’s misfortune, will be given the cup of judgment, become drunk, and be stripped naked.

Habakkuk thus points out that the Chaldean will pour out a cup of wrath but in turn will drink it himself. Indeed, he will drink it more deeply. The Chaldean, whose appetite was as unsatisfied as death and the grave (cf. 2:5), will now be satiated. He will have the honor of being God’s “cup” of judgment. However, he will seek his own honor and wealth, using his selfishly accumulated booty to build grandiose structures and formidable cities. Accordingly he will now know the shame* he has brought on others. Therefore, he is given a sarcastic command: “Go on! Drink! ... and expose yourself!” The last imperative is graphic. It means literally “show yourself as uncircumcised.” Not even in the marks of his body could the Chaldean claim covenant relationship with Yahweh. Naked and without grounds for leniency, the Chaldean faced certain doom. As Freeman observes, “To be uncircumcised marked one as a Gentile or heathen and outside God’s covenant; here it expresses God’s utter contempt for Judah’s oppressors and indicates the climax of their coming degradation.”423

The cup* of judgment would now come around to the Chaldean, and his glory would be turned into disgrace.* Habakkuk has so placed this word in the development of his pronouncement that it balances the thought with which the verse began. Filled to overflowing with shame, the Chaldean’s glory will be turned to utter disgrace.

The reason for which the Chaldean must drink the cup follows in v. 17. His will be a wanton disregard of the value of the natural world, the animal kingdom, and civilized humanity. Once more the subject of violence surfaces. Habakkuk had complained about the violence all about him (1:2-3), and God had warned him that still greater violence lay ahead (1:9). God had already laid the charge of violence against the Chaldeans (2:8); now he reiterates it with yet another instance of the Chaldeans’ ruthless activity.

By the violence done to Lebanon some understand a figurative reference to Israel’s own land. Thus Armerding remarks: “Lebanon” is used as a symbol of Israel (2 Kings 14:9; cf. Jer. 22:6, 23) and more specifically of Israel as a victim of Babylonian aggression (Ezek. 17:3).”424 But a literal interpretation is not impossible. The Mesopotamian kings had boasted of their exploitation of the forests of Lebanon since the earliest days.425 Sennacherib tells of dragging cedars from there,426 as does Nebuchadnezzar.427 Though uncertainty exists as to the scope of the reference, Lebanon referring more commonly to a region rather than to its cedars, the enumeration of various categories of living things here argues for a veiled reference to the cedars of Lebanon (cf. Judg. 9:15; Isa. 2:13). As such they symbolized the most magnificent and best-known representation of the area’s natural world (much as the redwoods do for California). They are personified here as rejoicing over Babylon’s demise (cf. Isa. 14:8).

The scene shifts to the animal kingdom. It, too, will suffer violence at the hands of the Chaldeans. The natural and animal worlds are often made unwilling participants in man’s sin and greed (cf. Joel 1:19-20; Rom. 8:22). It is a crime that has increasingly plagued human society. Such thoughtless conduct by the Chaldeans indicates again their godless arrogance and selfish presumption for which punishment must come. As Craigie observes, “The prophet indicates that the wanton use of violence against both the human world and the world of nature will return to haunt the perpetrators.”428

The noun שֹׁד ( sŒo„d) is used of great devastation or destruction. It occurs at times with שֶׁבֶר ( sŒeber, “breaking/shattering”; Isa. 51:19; 60:18; Jer. 48:35), such as in depicting the work of evil men (Isa. 59:7). Sóo„d is also parallel to עָמָל ( àa„ma„l, “trouble”) used of the dangers in associating with the wicked (Prov. 24:2). As is the case here, sŒo„d parallels ָָחמָס ( h£a„ma„s, “violence,”) in Ezek. 45:9; Amos 3:10. Jeremiah would later echo Habakkuk’s complaint with regard to the social injustice in his country (Jer. 6:7; 20:8). Habakkuk is thus assured that if the agent of God’s judgment perpetrates the same wickedness he has been sent to punish, he too must receive the just judgment of God.

The fourth woe is closed with a reiteration of the charge made against the Chaldean in the first. He will have a callous disregard even for the sanctity of human life. In his quest for power he will destroy everything that stands in his way, be it lands, cities, or those who dwell in them. For this the Neo-Babylonian empire would come to know what every divinely employed agent must learn: When carrying out God’s will is twisted to selfish advantage, the executor of divine justice must himself be judged (cf. 2 Kings 10:28-31 with Hos. 1:4).429

Additional Notes

2:15 †Three main suggestions have been given for the form חֲמָתְךָ (“your wrath”). (1) The translation just given (cf. RSV) takes the noun as ֵֵחמָה (“[burning] anger,” “rage,” from יַַָחם, “be hot”). (2) Some who follow this understanding of the origin of the noun suggest that it should be translated “venom” (NASB) or “poison” (NJB) as in Deut. 32:24; Job 6:4; Ps. 140:4. (3) Others believe that the word intended is ֵֵחמֶת (“wineskin,” NIV; cf. KJV, NKJV).430 In view of the association of drinking, wrath, and cup in the OT (e.g., Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15), the first alternative appears to be the best here. Moreover, such a view harmonizes well with a similar picture of Babylon’s judgment in Jer. 51:7-8.

The 2d masc. sing. suffix has also proved troublesome. Some translations change it to a 3d masc. sing. to agree with the subject in the parallel line (e.g., 1QpHab, Vg, NJB, RSV) or add a 3d masc. sing. pronoun to the sentence (e.g., NKJV: “pressing him to your bottle”; cf. KJV) or omit the suffix altogether (LXX, Tg. Neb., NIV). From a critical standpoint the difficulty of reading favors the MT.431 Moreover, such cases of enallage are common enough in the OT.432

†The problem concerning ֲֲחמָתְךָ is complicated further by controversy over the previous מְסַפֵּחַ. Some take the word to be from the root סָפַח (“join,” “attach to”; cf. Ethiopic saˆfh£a, “become broad/wide”433), deciding for a meaning “mix in” (NASB) or “press/put to” (NKJV, KJV). Others favor the idea “pour out” (NIV, NJB), סָפַח being compared with the Arabic safah£a (“pour out”).434 Still a third proposal is to emend the word to מִסַּף (“from/of the cup/bowl,” KB-3, RSV).435 Despite the uncertainty, I have followed Armerding, the NIV, and the NJB in choosing the second alternative because of the common OT usage of wrath being poured out (e.g., 2 Chron. 12:7; 34:21; Ps. 79:6; Jer. 7:20; 42:18; Ezek. 7:8; 9:8).436

†Still another perplexity arises in the next phrase, וְאַף שַׁכֵּר (“and also getting him drunk”). The conjunctive particle has been rendered as “even” (NASB), “till” (NIV), or “until” (NJB). Armerding offers the novel suggestion that the phrase “can be interpreted as a parallel noun in the accusative case, meaning ‘and (with) anger.’“437 This idea has the advantage of scriptural precedent in that both terms in this verse ( ֵֵחמָה and אַף) would then be words for anger that are said to be poured out (cf. Jer. 10:25; Lam. 4:11). The two even occur together at times (e.g., Jer. 7:20). Moreover, both appear together in a context of God’s judgment that also uses the figure of getting the nations drunk (Isa. 63:1-6).438

A variation in Armerding’s position would be to view the proposed noun “anger” as a compound accusative with deletion transformation of the pronominal suffix: thus “pouring out your wrath and anger.” Although such a suggestion would violate the normal rules of Hebrew syntax,439 some instances of the use of one pronoun with two connected nouns are attested in the OT (e.g., Ex. 15:2; 2 Sam. 23:5), and the resultant product of such a procedure would be similar to the omission of a pronominal suffix in parallel structure.440

However attractive Armerding’s proposal or its variation might seem, its cumbersomeness and the rarity of the variant consideration (even the cited examples are debated), as well as the fact that Habakkuk has already used וְאַף at the beginning of this section (2:5), make the suggestion of translating אַף as “anger” unlikely. Habakkuk probably intends the particle to introduce an additional thought joined to what precedes for special emphasis.

The following infinitive absolute שַׁכֵּר likely is used adverbially to describe the manner, means, degree, or attendant circumstance whereby the outpoured wrath is to be accomplished.441 The thought of the verse thus far may therefore be paraphrased: “Woe to him who gives his neighbor drink, pouring out your wrath and also (i.e., by, while) getting him drunk.” The objective “him” is to be supplied from the preceding line.442 As for מְעוֹרֵיהֶם (“their nakedness”), the pronominal suffix is masc. pl. in agreement with the collective sense in the antecedent “his neighbor(s).”

2:16 קָלוֹן (“shame,” from קָלָה, “be light”), קִיקָלוֹן (“[utter] disgrace,” from קָלַל,”be slight”; cf. Akkadian qala„lu, “be light,” qullulu, “despised”) and כוֹס (“cup”) all occur in combination in the Ugaritic literature.443 By drawing upon well-known Canaanite precedents in making his point, Habakkuk again displays his literary skill. He further demonstrates that ability by putting the verse in chiastic structure. Laetsch suggests that קִיקָלוֹן is derived from the verb ִִקיא (“spit,” vomit”) here used of shameful vomiting. Thus he remarks, “Dead drunk, the proud Chaldean shall lie naked on the floor in his own vomit, an object of horror and ridicule for all the world.”444

In the Scriptures the cup is often used as a figure of God’s dealings with men. It can be a symbol of His blessing (Pss. 16:5; 23:5; 116:13) or of judgment (Pss. 11:6; 75:8 [HB 75:9]; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-17; 49:12; 51:7; Ezek. 23:31-34; Rev. 14:10; 16:19). The motif is also applied to Christ’s finished work in drinking the cup of divine wrath against sin so that all people may be saved, as well as being utilized of the cup of eternal felicity that the heavenly host provided (Matt. 20:22-23; Mark 10:38; 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 18:11; cf. Matt. 26:27-29).

The right hand is a motif indicating honor (Gen. 48:13-14; Pss. 16:11; 110:1) or definiteness and strength of activity (Ex. 15:6; Ps. 98:1; Isa. 41:10). Its presence here adds vigor and emphasis to the threatened judgment of the Chaldeans (cf. Isa. 48:13-14).445

2:17יְתִיתַן (“will terrify”) is anomalous but probably is a remnant of an old energic form of חָתַת.446 I have followed the lead of the NIV (cf. NJB, RSV) in viewing the terror as coming upon the Chaldeans, as the parallel with the previous line appears to demand, rather than seeing the terror as being that which the Chaldeans perpetrated against the animal kingdom (cf. NASB, KJV, NKJV).

The word בְּהֵמָה (“animal”) is used of cattle in general,447 here representing the whole animal kingdom much as (the cedars of) Lebanon represents the natural world בְּהֵמָה was also doubtless employed because of its use in contexts that contrast animal and human behavior (cf. Ps. 73:22) and because it is frequently parallel to אָדָם (“man[kind]”; cf. Gen. 2:18-20; Ps. 49: 12, 20 [HB 49:13, 21]), a combination that appears here.

f. The fifth woe: The polytheistic Chaldean will be deserted by his idols (2:18-20)

“Of what value* is an idol.

      that* its creator has fashioned it,

(or) an image, a teacher of falsehood*,

      that* its creator* trusts it,

      making mute idols?

19Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Arise!’

      or to silent stone, ‘Wake up!’

Shall it give instruction*?

      Look, it is covered with gold and silver.

      yet there is no breath in it.

20But Yahweh is in His holy Temple;

      let all the earth be silent before Him.”

Exegesis and Exposition

In drawing the woe oracles to a close, Habakkuk deliberately changes the order he has previously employed by beginning with the reason for the threatened judgment (v. 18). Then, after giving invective (v. 19a) and threat (v. 19b), he returns climactically to a further consideration of the cause for the woe by expressing the chief lesson to be learned from the whole discussion (v. 20). Verse 20 forms an inclusio with v. 4 that reveals the underlying thesis and its implication for the entire section: The Lord is a just and holy God who deals righteously with all people and is actively present in the flow of earth’s history; therefore, He is to be acknowledged as God by all. That thesis is not only the answer to Habakkuk’s second perplexity but also serves as the basis for the Chaldean’s judgment.1448

The religious orientation of the Chaldean is now examined and shown to be without foundation. His idolatrous polytheism is seen to be worthless. The unit begins with a rhetorical question concerning the Chaldean’s idols. What profit is there? The answer: “None!” That this is so is obvious from several factors. (1) His idols are man-made and therefore can only be a source of false teaching. Whatever instruction one can glean from their worship is error. (2) Crafted by the hand of man, idols are silent creations that can never speak. The phrase אִלְּמִים אֱלִילִים ( áeŒlîlîm áille†mîm), “mute idols,” is a grotesque parody of אֱלֹהִים/ אֵל ( áe„l/áe†lo„hîm), the common words for the powerful and true God of revelation.449 (3) Since idols are only man’s creation, to put one’s trust in them is to trust one’s own creation rather than the Creator.

Before going on to give the most crucial reason for the doom of the polytheistic Chaldean, Habakkuk delivers an invective and a threat (v. 19). Having pointed out the inability of worthless man-made idols to speak, Habakkuk pronounces the Lord’s woe against the devotees of idol worship. How could anyone tell a carved wooden image to arise or instruct a god fashioned of stone to awaken? Whether the reference is to general petitions or requests for information made to these idols or is intended to reflect ceremonies waking the gods practiced in some ancient cultures, the question remains: How can lifeless, speechless products of the artisans’ hands give instruction? Any suggestion that such is possible is nonsense, for the fact remains that, however one may clothe them or cover them with gold and silver, the idols are not alive. The Hebrew text is emphatic: “Any breath does not exist within it!” The effect of the MT is graphically rendered by the NJB: “Look, he is encased in gold and silver,—but not a breath of life inside it!”

The condemnation of idolatry here is in harmony with that found in the other OT prophets (cf. Isa. 44:9-20; Jer. 5:7; 44:1-8; Hos. 8:4). The judgment of Babylon and its gods announced previously by Isaiah (Isa. 21:9) is repeated by Jeremiah (Jer. 50:2; 51:47-48, 52-53).

The fifth woe ends with a pronouncement that displays the vast difference between Israel’s God and the gods of Babylon. Unlike those gods, who have neither life nor word of guidance for their followers (cf. Isa. 44:9-11), Yahweh the Lord of all the earth (v. 14) is a living God. He is in His holy Temple* and available to all who fear Him (cf. Deut. 4:1-40; Ps. 91:14-16). He is ever present, superintending all that comes to pass (cf. Isa. 44:6-8, 24-28). The gods of Babylon (and their devotees) can only remain silent before Him.

The invective and threat against Babylon (v. 19) thus have more than sufficient cause. Since the Chaldeans worshiped gods of their own creation (v. 18) rather than the Creator, controller, and consummator of history, their condemnation is certain. This is their most besetting sin. Because the Chaldeans worshiped self and their own selfish artifices, they will plot against the peoples around them. Their feigned friendship with them will only be a pretext to indulge their own perverted lusts. Further, they will go on to plunder the nations so that lands, cities, and their inhabitants will feel the crush of their violent oppression. The verdict is final. Habakkuk can be assured that the Chaldeans will be judged, for they will violate the standards of God (cf. vv. 4-5).

Verse 20 also has another application. Because the idolatry that leads to the neglect and rejection of God is a universal problem, all the earth is to be silent before the living God. None is to assert his independence from God but rather should worship Him in humble submission (Jer. 10:1-10), letting Him be God of the whole life (Pss. 63:1-4 [HB 63:2-5]; 73:23-28).

The universal applicability of v. 20 argues for two further considerations: (1) v. 20 is designed both to conclude the fifth woe and to bring to culmination all of the woes; (2) v. 20 is also strategically placed so as to counterbalance the thought of v. 4. There is also here a personal application for Habakkuk. God’s prophet had expressed deep anxiety first over God’s seeming indifference to Judah’s sin (1:2-4) and then over God’s method of dealing with it (1:12-2:1). He needed to learn that in the operation of divine government God proceeds in accordance with definite standards (2:4). Once he had learned that and understood the applicability of God’s principles of governance to the Chaldean (2:5-19), he needed a fresh, personal resignation to the will of God (2:20). Like Job (Job 42:1-6), he needed to see God not only for what He does and gives but also for who He is. He needed to let Him be God of his whole life.

The challenge to Habakkuk is also for all people in all ages. Craigie’s words of warning are well taken:

Idolatry is essentially the worship of that which we make, rather than of our Maker. And that which we make may be found in possessions, a home, a career, an ambition, a family, or a multitude of other people or things. We “worship” them when they become the focal point of our lives, that for which we live. And as the goal and centre of human existence, they are as foolish as any wooden idol or metal image. But what we can perceive so clearly in the words of a prophet from centuries long passed, we cannot always see so clearly in our immediate life and existence. As we reflect on Habakkuk’s words, we should reflect also on the nature and direction of our own lives.450

Craigie’s admonition becomes doubly sobering for today’s believer when he realizes that his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). As such it belongs to God and ought not to be profaned in thought or deed. Because the Holy Spirit indwells the believer (1 Cor. 3:16), his life should reflect that one who alone is God (2 Cor. 6:16-18) as he lives in anticipation of that glorious day when “the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them” (Rev. 21:3).

Additional Notes

2:18 †Although הוֹעִיל (“profit,” “value”) may be construed as a causative verb, and hence standing after the preceding מָה (“what”) may be translated “What profits an idol?” (cf. Keil), the rendering adopted here follows most English translations in viewing “idol” as the subject and הוֹעִיל as inwardly transitive.451

פֶּסֶל is one of several basic words for “idol” in the OT. It is usually taken to mean “carved image,” while the following מַסֵּכָה (“image”) is customarily understood to mean “cast image.”452 Although one may not always be able to make such a distinction, the two words perhaps serve here as representative examples of idols however they are made.453

Still a third term for idol ( אֱלִילִים) occurs here. This word lays stress on its value, for it is denounced as an empty or worthless thing. H. Preuss suggests that the word

was created as a disparaging pun on and as a diminutive of ‘el or ‘elohim (Ps. 97:7) (“little god, godling”). This helped to bring about a conscious antithesis between áelil and áel, “the Strong One.” Furthermore, it is likely that the noun áelil is intentionally reminiscent of the adj. ‘elil, “weak, insignificant, worthless,” which we also encounter in contexts where the speaker uses scornful words (Job 13:4; Jer. 14:14; cf. Zec. 11:17; also Sir. 11:3).454

The alliteration with the following אִלְּמִים ( áilleŒmîm), “mute,” is effective but difficult to render in English in a way that retains both its meaning and the intended audible effect. Perhaps something like “voiceless, valueless” or “mute, meretricious things” would approximate the writer’s intentions.

שָׁקֶר וּמוֹרֶה (“a teacher of lies”): In addition to its normal function as a coordinator, the conjunction can be understood epexegetically, hence left untranslated (NASB) or treated as introducing a logically subordinate clause (= “that,” NIV). I have followed the NASB.

For the MT מוֹרֶה 1QpHab reads מרי, which Vermes understands to be a construct of מְרִיא (“fatling”).455 The Qumran form could also be understood as מְרִי (“rebellion”).

כִּי (“that”): Both cases of this particle have been variously translated, the NIV rendering both causally, the NASB and RSV rendering the first temporally and the second causally. The translation here follows the NJB, KJV, NKJV and several commentators (e.g., Hayes, Keil, Laetsch) in taking both particles as introducing result clauses. So construed, the question gets to the heart of the problem: “What possible profit can there be in any form of idol so that a craftsman would not only make a mute idol in the first place but then cap his foolishness by trusting in his own creation?”

2:19 דּוּמָם (“silent”) emphasizes the idol’s ineffectiveness with regard to speech (it is noiseless), whereas the synonym אִלֵּם (“mute”) underscores its inability to speak.456

יוֹרֶה הוּא (“shall it give instruction?”): יוֹרֶה is properly a verb, although some have treated it as a nominal form (e.g., NASB, NJB). The accents of the MT demand that the phrase be treated as separate from what precedes (cf. KJV). Although some have regarded it as a statement (NJB, NKJV), it is usually understood as a question. Others have omitted it as a gloss (e.g., NEB). The paronomasia with מוֹרֶה is obvious.

2:20 הַס (“keep silent”): The word is an onomatopoeic interjection with a force much like the English “hush!” (cf. Zeph. 1:7).

By הֵיכָל (“temple”) is probably meant not only the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 7:1-3) but also God’s heavenly sanctuary (Ps. 11:4; Isa. 6:1-5; Mic. 1:2; cf. Rev. 4:2-11) from which, though it cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27), He hears and answers the prayers of those who know Him and seek Him (1 Kings 8:28-30; Ps. 73:17).

Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4

The place of Habakkuk 2:4 in the history of biblical interpretation can hardly be overestimated. Its place in Jewish thinking is well represented by Rabbi Simlai:

That it came to be of special importance for some Jews is indicated by bMakk. 23b, which tells us that Rabbi Simlai (about A.D. 250) had asserted that the 613 commandments received by Moses had been summed up by David in eleven commandments (Ps 15), by Isaiah in six (Isa 33.15f), by Micah in three (Mic 6.8), by Isaiah again in two (Isa 56.1), and finally by Amos in one (Amos 5.4), but that Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac (about A.D. 350) had substituted Hab 2.4b for Amos 5.4 as the summary in one commandment.457

Its threefold citation in the NT (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38) attests to its basic importance to the Christian revelation. Boice rightly remarks:

This is a great text. It could even be called the great text of the Bible. To understand it is to understand the Christian gospel and the Christian life. It is so important that it is picked up by the New Testament writers, twice by Paul (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11) and once by the author of the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 10:38).458

The study of this text in Paul’s expression of it in Rom. 1:17 had a remarkable impact on Martin Luther:

There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith.... Here I felt I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally new face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.459

Indeed, C. L. Feinberg may not be too far wrong in dubbing this text the “watchword of Christianity,” the key to Habakkuk, and “the central theme of all the Scriptures.”460

Its Context

It is the nature of the case for crucial texts to receive great critical attention. Such is true here as well, the discussion of this verse or its NT citations in commentaries, theologies, and special studies being voluminous. Several problems are relevant to the understanding of the text, the most immediate being its relation to its context. Some (e.g., Eissfeldt; cf. BHS, NJB) suggest that it is closely tied to what precedes (vv. 2-3), vv. 2-4 thus forming a distinct pericope. Others (e.g., Hummel; cf. NKJV) extend this pericope backward to v. 1, while still others also include v. 5 (e.g., Humbert, R. Smith; cf. RSV). Some view Hab. 2:4 as chiefly introductory to all that follows (e.g., D. A. Koch), whereas others find the closest relationship between vv. 4 and 5 (e.g., Armerding, Keil, Laetsch; cf. NASB, NIV).

Representative of those who view Hab. 2:4 with the preceding verses is J. G. Janzen.461 He finds the clue to his position in the word יָפֵהַ ( ya„pe„ah£, v. 3), which he takes not as a verb from פּוּחַ ( pu‚ah£, “breathe/blow”) but, building on studies by Dahood and Loewenstamm462 and considering the evidence of Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 14:5, 25; 19:5, 9, views it as a noun and translates v. 3 “For the vision is a witness to a rendezvous, a testifier to the end—it does not lie.”463 Key to Janzen’s interpretation is the presence in Hab. 2:3-4 of several key terms in the six texts in Proverbs:

For in view of the collocation of key terms ( àe„d, ya„pîah, kizze„b, áe†muna‚/ áe†met) around the central concern in the six proverbs and elsewhere, only by resisting the obvious can we avoid the conclusion that the word áe†muna‚ in Hab 2:4b joins the three terms used earlier, àe„d, ya„pe„ah£ and kizze„b, to form the same four-term collocation around the same concern. But this means, unambiguously, that 2:4b refers not to the faithfulness (let alone the faith) of the s£addîq, but to the reliability of the vision.464

His conclusion therefore is that in vv. 2-4

Yahweh is portrayed as vouching for the vision as a reliable witness and testifier which does not lie. But as the guarantor of the credentials of the vision as witness, Yahweh implicates himself fatefully in its reliability. This is no lying vision inspired by a lying spirit. What has been given to the prophet has not been given to deceive or to (mis)lead into destruction. This vision is reliable, such that the righteous shall live by it.465

Although Janzen’s observations are helpful, only one of the key terms of Hab. 2:4 is actually used in these citations in Proverbs ( אֱמוּנָה in Prov. 12:17, where it appears with צֶרֶק [ s£edeq, “truth”] from the same word group as the צַדִּיק [ s£addîq, “righteous one”] of Hab. 2:4). Further, Janzen’s three key terms of v. 3 (one of which is achieved by repointing עוֹד [ ào‚d, “yet”] to עֵד [ àe„d, “witness/testifier”]) never occur with אֳמוּנָה (although ֱֹאמוּנִים עֵד [“a faithful witness”] occurs in Prov. 14:5 parallel to כְּזָבִים יָפִיחַ [ ya„pîah£ keŒza„bîm, “a false witness”]). Thus in the six passages in Proverbs all four terms necessary to Janzen’s theory occur in some form only once. Moreover, the אֱמוּנָה of Hab. 2:4 does not modify any of the three terms of v. 3 as in Prov. 12:17; 14:5, nor does it necessarily bear the same nuance as in the contexts in Proverbs.

Therefore, while Janzen’s suggestions may help yield a satisfactory understanding of vv. 2-3, I do not believe he has demonstrated so necessary a relationship between vv. 2-3 and v. 4 that one must understand all four terms involved in the same way as his proposed understanding of the Proverbs passages. Indeed, the אֱמוּנָה of v. 4 seems tied only to its poetic line and the one preceding it, and that in a way different from the contexts in Proverbs.

Its appearance in v. 4 so close to the other three terms with which it is associated in Proverbs may simply be intended to suggest a literary correspondence between Hab. 2:2-3 and 2:4. Just as God’s vision testifies truthfully (=faithfully) to God’s appointed end, so a righteous man lives his life in faith(fulness). Accordingly, even accepting Janzen’s repointing of עוֹד to עֵד and his understanding of יָפֵחַ, one may say no more than that the passages in Proverbs may provide a literary and lexical environment for understanding the vision as a testifier and true witness to God’s purposes (vv. 2-3) and possibly even a literary correspondence between vv. 2-3 and v. 4. No necessary syntactical or lexical relationship between vv. 2-3 and v. 4 can be proved. Though this does not necessarily invalidate the view that Hab. 2:4 is most closely tied to what precedes, since that view has no compelling evidence in its favor it would seem better to follow the more traditional position that relates v. 4 to what follows.

Moreover, there is much to commend a close tie of Hab. 2:4 to what comes after it: (1) The opening הִנֵּה often used as a poetic introductory formula argues for the initiation of a new thought.466 (2) None of the key terms of v. 4 can be proved to be directly related to vv. 2-3, whereas the word נֶפֶשׁ is crucial to the application of v. 4 to the Chaldean in what follows (cf. vv. 5, 10). (3) While it might be suggested that v. 4 is a hinge verse467 that completes the thought of vv. 2-3 and carries the discussion on to the consideration of the Chaldean in vv. 5-20, the fact that the principles enumerated in v. 4 are basic to the description of the demise of the Chaldean argues for a closer relation of v. 4 to what follows. (4) כִּי אַף ( áa p kî) in v. 5 is designed to pick up the thought of a preceding sentence and carry it forward as an argumentum a fortiori: “yea, the more so,” “furthermore.” BDB notes that in such cases the preceding sentence is often indicated by. הִנֵּה, as is the case here in Hab. 2:4. So understood it would appear that God’s revelation of the principles of human behavior is the starting point for the consideration of the Chaldeans. If it is true that the wicked go on in their selfish presumption and if real life exists only with the righteous who conduct themselves faithfully before God (v. 4), the Chaldean is included in the class of the wicked whose unrighteous desires are catalogued in v. 5.

Accordingly v. 4 is best taken with what follows. Though it forms the essence of the divine revelation that is to be heralded to all, it is woven into the structure of v. 5, both verses thus serving as the basis for the woes that follow.

The First Line

Verse 4 confronts the reader with a myriad of grammatical and lexical difficulties.468 עֻפְּלָה ( àuppe†la‚) has challenged the best efforts of exegetes. Most commonly the word has been related to the root עָפַל ( àa„pal, “swell”) and hence as a pual participle is variously translated “puffed up” (NIV; so also La Sainte Bible, “enflée”; cf. La Sacra Biblia, gonfia” [conceited]), “proud” (NASB), “arrogant” (BDB), or “stiff-necked/stubborn” (Die Heilege Schrift, “halsstarrig”).

Some, citing the difficulty of the masculine singular suffixes נַפְשׁוֹ and בּוֹ, suggest an emendation to a masculine substantive such as עֻפָּל or עַפָּל (BHS) or redivide the consonants into עַף (from עוף, “fly [away],” i.e., “perish”) and לֹה, or find a relation with the Arabic gafala (“be heedless”) and translate the word “reckless” (NEB).469 Others, feeling the need for a verb to balance יִחְיֶה in the parallel line, invert the consonants or emend the word to a form of (1) the verb עָלַף ( àa„lap, “cover”) translating “become weak” (Humbert), “succumb” (NJB), “draw back” (LXX), or “fail” (RSV) or (2) the verb פָּעַל ( pa„àal, “do/make”) with the idea of earning punishment (Rudolph).

Still others abandon the consonants of the MT and suggest a word from another root such as עַוָּל ( àawwa„l, “unjust,” hence “the wicked” [Pesh., Tg. Neb.]) or עָאֵל ( àa„s£e„l, “be sluggish,” hence “slothful” [Aquila, Janzen]), while some simply translate ad sensum “unbelievable” (Vg) or “faithless.”470

The problem is difficult, and some abandon any hope of solving it.471 It seems, however, that one should follow the reading of the MT due both to the criteria of textual criticism (prefer the more difficult reading472 and consider the evidence of 1QpHab, which follows the MT: עופלה) and to the fact that the traditional text, though obscure, can be explained. Provisionally, then, the MT can be translated “arrogant” or the like.

Nevertheless, at least two other problems arise: (1) As mentioned above, the masculine singular suffixes on נַפְשׁוֹ and בּוֹ call for an appropriate singular antecedent; (2) נֶפֶשׁ may need to be translated in some way other than “soul.”473

Taking these problems in inverse order, however broad might be the range of meanings for נֶפֶשׁ,474 many passages are best understood in their traditional sense as the seat of moral or religious agency (i.e., the soul; e.g., Ex. 23:9; Isa. 26:8-9).475 Therefore, the translation “soul” cannot be dismissed categorically. At this point, however, a couple of controlling factors need to be observed. נֶפֶשׁ does not elsewhere476 occur with the root ישׁר, which is usually associated in a moral sense with לֵבָב/ לֵב ( le„b/le„ba„b, “heart”; e.g., 2 Kings 10:15; 2 Chron. 29:34; Pss. 7:10 [HB 7:11]; 32:11; 94:15 [HB 94:16]; 97:11). Accordingly, the following בּוֹ (“in him”) rather than נַפְשׁוֹ is to be understood with לֹא יָשְׁרָה (“not upright”), as most expositors suggest. Also, the use of נֶפֶשׁ in v. 5 in the sense of “appetite” or “desire” (cf. NJB, NASB) probably argues for a similar understanding in v. 4 (cf. NIV). Thus the translation of נֶפֶשׁ as “soul” in v. 4 (KJV, NASB, RSV) is probably incorrect.

Turning to the first problem, one solution to the difficulty with the masculine suffixes is to propose that the Chaldean, the subject of vv. 6-20, is to be assumed here (so Keil). This leaves the predicate adjective יָשְׁרָה to agree with נֶפֶשׁ and yields a translation something like “behold. puffed up, his soul is not straight within him.”477 Such a procedure gives tolerable sense and takes account of the apparent incongruity between the feminine עֻפְּלָה and the following masculine suffixes.

Additional possibilities include (1) viewing עֻפְּלָה as composed of a masculine noun of the qut£t£a„l type (“arrogance and a masculine singular suffix -o„h (rather than -o‚),478 here functioning as the antecedent of pronominal suffixes in a relative clause 479—”Behold his arrogance whose desire is not upright in him” (i.e., “Behold the arrogance of him in whom his desire is not upright”)—and (2) understanding עֻפְּלָה as a masculine noun with a masculine singular suffix and viewing all of the suffixes as anticipatory of the Chaldeans of the following discussion: “Behold his (the Chaldean’s) arrogance; his desire is not upright in him.”

Any of these explanations can yield a translation compatible with the parameters of the language and faithful to the MT. Keil’s translation has the advantage of taking the text as it stands, but he must supply the antecedent for the suffixes from the demands of the context. He also fails to come to grips satisfactorily with the problem of נֶפֶשׁ although this difficulty could possibly be solved by translating the word as “desire.” The second additional view deals with נֶפֶשׁ and takes advantage of the Masoretic accents but, like Keil’s proposal, faces the problem of finding a satisfactory antecedent for the suffixes. It also depends on a repointing of עֻפְּלָה. The first additional suggestion has the advantage of accounting for all the linguistic problems but at the expense of repointing the consonants of the MT.

The solution tentatively proposed here notes the seeming incongruity between the feminine substantive and the following masculine suffixes by understanding עֻפְּלָה as a predicate adjective before a relative clause with omitted particle: “Arrogant is the one whose desires are not upright” (lit. “An arrogance is he whose desire is not upright in him”). Thus construed the syntax is much like that of Isa. 41:24, בָּכֶם יִבְחַר תּוֹעֵבָה ( to‚àe„ba‚ yibh£ar ba„kem), which the NIV accurately translate, “He chooses you’ is detestable.”480 On the whole this seems the easiest solution and has OT literary precedent. Whatever the final solution to the difficulties in the first line, the MT can be translated as it stands, making it hasty to conclude that the text can “give no sense.”481

The Second Line

The chief points of contention in the second line of Hab. 2:4 revolve around (1) the precise meaning of עַדִּיק ( s£addîq, “righteous/just”) and (2) the meaning and syntactical relationship of the following בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ ( beá e†mu‚na„to‚, “by his faith[fulness]).” Complicating both problems is the reading of the line in the LXX and its subsequent use by the NT writers.

As for the first problem, words derived from עדק have varied meanings. The root itself appears to mean “be straight” and is largely employed in situations that denote conformity to a standard (i.e., straightness).482 Thus the root and its word group are often used of God’s activities and man’s relation to God. In accordance with His righteous scrutiny God takes note of all people in their activities (Amos 5:4-7, 14; 6:12) and punishes the sin of His own (Dan. 9:14) and of all people (Ps. 9:8 [HB 9:9]). By His righteous judgment He vindicates His own (Judg. 5:11; Isa. 54:17; Mic. 7:9) and brings them salvation/deliverance (Isa. 45:21; 46:12-13), ultimately through His Righteous One (Jer. 23:6; 33:18).483 Redeemed people can know the objective reality of right standing before a righteous God (Isa. 45:24-25; 51:7; 61:10), before whom they are to live righteous lives (Isa. 62:1-2) culminating in a kingdom of righteousness forever (Isa. 9:7; 61:14).

Fundamental to the use of עַדִּיק in the OT is the concept of God’s own righteousness, the truth that God’s decisions and actions always conform to His holy and just nature.484 This truth is set forth in Deut. 32:4:

The Rock, His work is perfect,

      for all His ways are just;

a God of faithfulness and without wrongdoing,

      He is righteous and upright.

This important text establishes the ground of divine activity, which is essential to man’s relationship to his Creator. Keil and Delitzsch remark: “As the rock, He is ‘a God of faithfulness,’ upon which men may rely and build in all the storms of life, and ‘without iniquity,’ i.e.,anything crooked or false in His nature.”485 For man, not only created in the image of God but also living in covenant relation with Him, God’s Person and actions become the foundation for his conduct. God’s perfection is its basis (Gen. 17:1; Ps. 78:72; Matt 5:48), His holiness its dynamic (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16), His truth its standard, and His love its imperative (Ps. 85:8-10 [HB 85:9-11]; Eph. 4:15).486 The righteous man, then, is the one who makes God’s righteous standards his own and lives in accordance with them.

Three of the key words in Hab. 2:4 are found also in Deut. 32:4: אֱמוּנָה, עַדִּיק, and יָשָׁר/ יָשְׁרָה.487 Habakkuk’s bringing together of these words is doubtless not accidental. The effect is to make the character and culpability of the arrogant Chaldean conqueror, the object of the prophet’s concern, appear all the more distinct. The basic qualities of moral responsibility and ethical behavior of men living in the presence of the sovereign judge of the earth are thus shown to be absent from Israel’s chastiser. Accordingly he will be judged (cf. Isa. 45:22-25).

The second problem has to do with the precise nuance of אֱמוּנָה. Since the etymology of אמן has often been taken as the key to the meaning of אֱמוּנָה, it is perhaps best to begin there.488 Although older commentators stated that the root idea is “be firm” and hence translated the noun as “firmness” or the like (so Keil; cf. BDB), Barr argues that the case for “be firm” cannot be demonstrated and suggests that,based on the meaning of ‘mn in the other Semitic languages, “feel secure” or “trust” would be more appropriate.489 Jepsen, however, cautions that the absence of the root in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Canaanite-Phoenician makes its occurrence in Hebrew the earliest, so that “if an original meaning is still generally intelligible, it must be deduced from the Hebrew, rather than from the Syriac or Arabic”490 where the hiphil form of the verb was adopted. The matter is clouded still further by Baumgartner’s listing of two roots: I. “be steady/firm/trustworthy”; II. “set in order” (a denominative from אֹמֵן “keeper/guardian”).491 In sum, certainty as to an original meaning for the root escapes us.

The matter of the etymology of אמן, however, may have been overemphasized. As Barr points out,

Even assuming, therefore, that the ‘ultimate’ etymology of words of the root ‘-m-n is ‘firmness’, we have here an illustration of the harm of paying excessive attention to the most ultimate etymology and failing to consider what forms were current at the relevant times and what senses they bore in actual usage. Extant forms are not derived directly from the ultimate etymology or from the ‘root meaning’.492

Thus the meaning of אֱמוּנָה and its significance for Hab. 2:4 need to be determined largely its use in the Hebrew OT. Unfortunately here, too, a great deal of controversy has arisen as to whether this noun has an active (“trustfulness,” Barr) or passive (“trustworthiness,” J. B. Lightfoot493) sense. Jepsen appears to be on the right track in observing that אֱמוּנָה denotes “a way of acting which grows out of inner stability, ‘conscientiousness’ ... ‘emunah seems more to emphasize one’s own inner attitude and the conduct it produces.”494 Thus active and passive meanings are largely merged, אֱמוּנָה for people being an “inner stability, integrity, conscientiousness, cleanliness, which is essential for any responsible service,” and for God conduct that “corresponds to the nature of his deity.”495 If the active and passive meanings are both inherent in the word, God is not only trustworthy but also one who acts faithfully in accordance with His being. Similar qualities are expected of the believer, the noun prescribing “as a personal attribute of man, fidelity in word and deed ... and, in his relation to God, firm attachment to God, an undisturbed confidence in the divine promises of grace.”496 For Hab. 2:4, this means that the righteous believer is one in whom God’s righteous character has been reproduced; he can therefore be trusted to act faithfully toward all and especially toward God.

This emphasis is further underscored in the syntax of the clause, the Masoretic accents suggesting that בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ is to be taken with יִחְיֶה: “By his faithfulness (the righteous one) shall live.” This observation brings into focus the problem of the LXX translation: ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεώς μου ζήσεται ( ho de dikaios ek pisteo„s mou ze„setai, “but the just shall live by my faith”).497 Though some have suggested that a fundamental difference exists between the Greek and Hebraic perceptions here concerning אֱמוּנָה, because the Hebrew noun stresses the outworking of an inner reality the LXX translators

have rendered the word quite correctly πίστις, although by changing the suffix, and giving ἐκ πίστεώς μον instead of αὐτου` (or more properly ἑαυτου`: Aquila and the other Greek versions), they have missed, or rather perverted, the sense.498

Thus, aside from the change in pronouns, the LXX translators and the Hebrew author have the same perspective: faith and faithfulness can be viewed as aspects of a living reality—he who has faith will be faithful.499

Coupled with this truth is the fact that for the last clause of Hab. 2:4 “it is impossible to mistake the reference ... to Gen. xv. 6, ‘he believed ( heáe†mi„n) in Jehovah, and He reckoned it to him litseda‚-qa‚h.’“500 Although the nature of Abraham’s faith and his standing before God have been subjects of intense discussion among biblical scholars, the above study of the words and the force of the context make clear that “Abram accepted the Word of the Lord as reliable and true and acted in accordance with it; consequently, the Lord declared Abram righteous and therefore acceptable.”501 The proper conclusion as to the matter of Abraham’s righteous standing before God is summarized by Keil and Delitzsch:

This righteousness Abram acquired through his unconditional trust in the Lord, his undoubting faith in His promise, and his ready obedience to His word. This state of mind, which is expressed in the words בַּיהוָֹה הֶאֶמִין, was reckoned to him as righteousness, so that God treated him as a righteous man, and formed such a relationship with him, that he was placed in living fellowship with God.502

The well-known statement concerning the patriarch’s faith lies behind Habakkuk’s words; consequently the idea of a genuinely righteous man with right standing before God would not be foreign to the prophet.503 Scriptural precedent thus reinforces the blending of active and passive meanings in אֱמוּנָה. The force of the words accordingly becomes all the stronger: a genuinely righteous man will live out his faith in faithful activity.

So understood, Paul’s application of Hab. 2:4b, although admittedly shifted to serve his purpose, is not as far afield as commonly charged. The development of Paul’s argument in Romans demands that he took ἐκ πίστεως to modify ὁ δίκαιος rather than relating it to the verb as Habakkuk does: “The one justified by faith shall live.”504 The apostle emphasizes that man’s right standing before God is not based on works (cf. Eph. 2:8), not even those of the law (cf. Gal. 3:11), but only on genuine faith.505 This by no means suggests that Paul mishandled the words of Habakkuk’s prophecy. As Everett Harrison remarks,

Apparently he was not desirous of disturbing the form of a familiar quotation. We know that he would endorse the truth that the Christian is not only justified by faith but is also expected to live by faith in order to please God. Such an emphasis has its place, but only when the initial problem of the sinner has been met. The liberty involved in using a quotation in a way somewhat different from its original setting is necessitated by the progress of revelation.506

That the NT writers were aware of Habakkuk’s intended meaning seems certain by the citation of his words in Heb. 10:35-39 where, quoting the text of the LXX (though reading the pronoun “my” after “righteous one” and inverting the final two words of the verse: “My righteous one will live by faith[fulness]”), the author of Hebrews applies the outworking of the believer’s faith to his living in the certain hope of Christ’s coming.

As in Habakkuk the vision was surely to come, so in Hebrews it is an assured matter that the Coming One will come and not tarry long. And if in Habakkuk’s time the righteous man could be saved by his faithful and tenacious clinging to God, fidelity and fortitude are even more required of the righteous man to whom the author directs his appeal.507

Yet even here

there is no fundamental difference in this respect between Paul and the author of Hebrews; but our author, reproducing this clause together with part of its context, emphasizes the forward-looking character of saving faith, and in fact includes in “faith” not only what Paul means by the word but also what Paul more often expresses by the companion word “hope.”508

By way of summation it may be said that an analysis of all the data relative to Hab. 2:4 indicates that, unlike the righteous person who carries on his life in faithfulness to God, the wicked one goes on in his arrogance, devoid of upright desires. It is this principle that will be applied to the case of the Chaldean, whose moral and spiritual failure is catalogued in the verses that follow.

The Prophet’s Prayer and God’s Exaltation
(Habakkuk 3:1-19)

A perplexed prophet had awaited God’s instructions (2:1). They have come to him with assurance (2:2-3) and an expression of basic principles (2:4), together with application of God’s working in the current crisis (2:5-19). Habakkuk has been reminded that God was in charge and that He called for submission by all, including himself (2:20).

In humble response Habakkuk turns in prayer and praise to God. He beseeches God’s mercy in the midst of His righteous judgment (3:1-2). After laying bare his soul, he addresses God in a double poem of praise as the only one who can meet the needs of His people and His prophet (3:3-15). The prophecy ends on a high note. Having reviewed God’s mighty actions in redeeming and caring for His people, Habakkuk responds in fear and trust that his Redeemer will bring the divine purposes to their proper conclusions (3:16-18). The final verse (3:19) sounds a triumphant chord of praise to Israel’s Redeemer and puts forward Habakkuk’s guide for living.

The entire chapter is a prayer psalm (see introduction) complete with opening cry, attestation of praise, petition (v. 2), a central section of twofold praise (vv. 3-15), a renewed affirmation of trust in God (vv. 16-18), and a concluding note of praise (v. 19).509 The central portion was drawn from two ancient compositions culled from an epic cycle of Israelite poems celebrating the Exodus from Egypt (vv. 3-7) and the entrance into the land of promise (vv. 8-15). Other literary features include simile and metaphor (vv. 4, 8-10, 11, 14, 19), metonymy (vv. 2, 9?), merismus (vv. 3, 7), hyperbole (vv. 6, 11), paronomasia (vv. 13-14), personification (vv. 1, 5, 7?), rhetorical question (v. 8), enjambment (vv. 8, 16), climactic parallelism (v. 2), gender-matched parallelism (v. 3), staircase parallelism (v. 8), chiasmus (vv. 3, 5), synecdoche (v. 3), and alliteration and assonance.

A. The Prophet’s Prayer For The Redeemer’s Pity (3:1-2)

Having heard and understood God’s principles of judgment and their application, Habakkuk returns to the matter of Judah’s judgment. Unlike the condemnation of his people with which his spiritual struggle had begun (1: 2-4), the knowledge of the severity of the divine judgment strikes fear into God’s prophet. Though judicial wrath must come, Habakkuk pleads for God’s mercy.510


A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth*.

2LORD, I have heard the report concerning You*;

      I stand in fear, O LORD, of Your deeds*;

in the midst of years, renew* them,

      in the midst of years, make them known,

      in ferocity*, remember compassion*.

Exegesis and Exposition

Like many of the psalms, the next section of Habakkuk’s prophecy is given a heading. What follows is his prayer psalm, a composition to be set to music for use in worship. But “though its substance makes it suitable for usage in Israel’s worship in general, it is also tied intimately to Habakkuk’s particular experience of God which has dominated the first two chapters of the book.”511

Habakkuk begins his prayer with a cry and statement of praise that reflect his fear of God (v. 2a). The choice of the word “LORD” (Yahweh) rather than a more general term probably emphasizes the fact that Habakkuk addresses his words to Israel’s covenant God. He has heard of Yahweh’s past mighty deeds. Habakkuk has in mind the theophany expressed in the epic material commemorating the Exodus, the subject of vv. 3-15. Armerding underscores the likelihood of this suggestion:

The noun “fame” ( s†emaà) is normally used of secondhand information (e.g., Job 28:22; Nah 3:19), suggesting a remoteness from the hearer’s own experience to the persons or events referred to (cf. Job 42:5). The Lord’s “deeds” envisaged here corroborate this sense of remoteness, being associated with his sovereign power and preeminently with his “work” ( po„àal) at the Exodus (e.g., Num 23:23; Pss 44:1; 68:28; 77:12; 90:16; 95:9; 111:3; cf. v. 3)—a primary anchor-point of Israel’s recollection, faith, and hope, as is the Cross to the Christian.512

Nevertheless, the past work of God also often included times of judgment for His people.

In accordance with God’s message of the near chastisement of Judah, Habakkuk now prays for God’s miraculous intervention. He employs a stanza-closing tricolon framed in climactic parallelism and filled with alliteration and assonance (the use of velars and the letters z and r). He asks that (as in the past) God will, in the midst of these years in which the appointed time (cf. 2:3) of God’s work (cf. 1:5) of judgment is taking place, renew His deeds and thus again make known His work of redemption. With aching heart he urges God to be compassionate in the coming turmoil (cf. Ex. 34:6-7; 1 Kings 8:33-34, 46-53; 2 Chron. 6:24-25, 36-39; Isa. 54:8).

Habakkuk’s prayer would be answered according to the terms of Israel’s covenant with God (Deut. 4:25-31) and also the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:1-11; 29:10-14; cf. 2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1;1; Dan. 9:2). His prayer and its realization stand as an earnest of God’s future gathering of His people in redemptive power (Deut. 30:1-3; Ezek. 36:24-38; 37:21-28; Amos 9:14-15; Mic. 4:6; Zeph. 3:20; Zech. 10:5-12).

Additional Notes

3:1שִׁגְיֹנוֹת (“shigionoth”) is derived from the verb שָׁגָה (“go astray”). Although words connected with this root are most often used in moral and spiritual contexts, this noun is employed twice as a musical notation: once in the singular (Ps. 7:1), here in the plural. Its combination with עַל ([up]on/according to”) in both places renders it certain that, like other such psalm headings, it must refer to the musical setting of the psalm. Keil observes that

all the notices in the headings to the psalms that are introduced with ‘al refer either to the melody or style in which the psalms are to be sung, or to the musical accompaniment with which they are to be introduced into the worship of God. This musico-liturgical signification is to be retained here also, since it is evident from the subscription in ver. 19, and the repetition of Selah three times (vers. 3, 9, 13), that our hymn was to be used with musical accompaniment.513

The precise understanding of the term, however, is disputed. Keil (see also Delitzsch, Laetsch, von Orelli) prefers the idea of a dithyramb with its wild, undulating, emotional setting. He also mentions the suggestion of Schmieder, who views it as a “strong, martial, and triumphal ode.”514 Armerding opts for “a vehement cry for justice against sin,”515 whereas Watts suggests a lament.516 The infrequency of the word’s occurrence as well as the uncertainty concerning it already evident in the ancient versions has caused most English translations simply to transliterate it.517 Blue’s conclusion covers the matter well:

It is unlikely that it refers to the content of the song, even though the Hebrew root verb may also mean “to transgress or err.” But the theme is not directed to the transgressions or wanderings of Babylon and Judah; the song centers on the majesty of God. Therefore it is much more reasonable to see shigionoth as having a musical-liturgical significance. Another musical notation is found at the end of Habakkuk 3. Possibly this song became a part of the temple worship.518

For תְּפִלָּה (“prayer”) see the introduction.

3:2שִׁמְעֲךָ (“the report concerning you”): The translation follows the NASB (cf. RSV) in taking the suffix as an objective genitive.

The translation of פָּעָלְךָ (“your deeds”; lit. “your work”) follows the NIV (cf. RSV) in viewing the noun as the object of the previous verb. This preserves the parallel balance with the preceding line.

Hiebert calls attention to the importance of the pairing of these two verbs:

Especially to be noted is the link between sŒmàk, the account about Yahweb, and p’lk, the content of that account. This pair of terms is linked by their semantic equivalence, their final position in parallel lines, their grammatical identity (direct objects with 2ms suffixes), and their phonetic correspondence.... They establish two motifs central to the poem: the hearing about the acts of God, and the response of great awe which this hearing evokes. The use of the vocative, yhwh, identifies at the outset the central focus of the poem, the God of Israel.519

The frequent proposal to attach פָּעָלְךָ to the following line (“revive thy work,” NASB; cf. KJV, NKJV) makes for a choppy translation, destroys the poetic balance, and ignores the necessity for taking the form as the antecedent for the suffix on “renew/revive.”

No need exists for emending יָרֵאתִי to רָאִיתִי with BHS (so also Ward).

חַיֵּיהוּ (“renew them”; lit. “renew it”): The verb can denote not only giving, calling, or creating life (Gen. 7:3; 19:32, 24; Deut. 32:39) but also reviving and renewing life (Pss. 80:19; 85:6 [HB 85:7]; 119:25) as well as preserving life (Gen. 12:12; Deut. 6:24; Ps. 22:29 [HB 22:30]). The reference here points to the redeeming work of God that is rehearsed in vv. 3-15. This conclusion is reinforced by noting the emphasis of שִׁמְעֲךָ and פָּעָלְךָ that precede.520

תּוֹדִיעַ in the succeeding line is reminiscent of Ps. 77:14 (HB 77:15). Since the following request for mercy also echoes Ps. 77:7-9 (HB 77:8-10), Habakkuk may be consciously drawing upon that psalm as a literary allusion by which to introduce the epic poem that follows, particularly since some of that material is reflected in Ps. 77:16-18 (HB 77:17-19). The objective pronoun in the previous line is here deleted, a common feature in Hebrew poetry.521 This makes unnecessary the LXX ἐπιγνωσθήσῃ (“make yourself known”). The LXX apparently viewed the MT verb as niphal ( תִּוָּדַע). Nor does the presence of תּוֹדִיעַ demand the reading חַוֵּיהוּ (“make it known,” “declare it”) in the preceding line, the sense of the MT being clear as it stands.522

דֹגֶז (“ferocity”) and רַחֵם (“compassion”) are expressive words. The former comes from a root that means “to tremble/shake” (cf. Hab. 3:7), often in rage (Isa. 28:21)523 or fear (Hab. 3:16). The noun itself occurs elsewhere only in Job, where it is employed of one’s troubles (Job 3:17, 26; 14:1), the rumbling of thunder (Job 37:2), or the fierceness of the war horse (Job 39:24), and in Isa. 14:3, where it depicts Israel’s oppression. Accordingly the noun here implies an action that produces a fearsome trembling, such as before a fierce storm.

The latter word signifies a warm love of great depth. A denominative from the word for “womb” and set here in emphatic position, it stresses the prophet’s concern that in the midst of His judgment God will remember to have tender compassion on His people.524

B. The Prophet’s Praise Of The Redeemer’s Person (3:3-15)

Habakkuk has been given answers to his perplexities. Summoned to silence by God, he has broken that silence only by praying for God’s mercy in the midst of judgment. He does so on the basis of his consideration of God’s past redemptive acts for His people, some of which he now rehearses for all to contemplate. His prayer is continued with a psalm of praise to the God who alone can meet the needs of all people. Habakkuk draws upon older poetic material that had formed part of a body of compositions commemorating God’s deliverance of His people at the Exodus and the entrance into Canaan.

The psalm consists of two distinct works (vv. 3-7, 8-15), each of which not only contributes to the corpus of epic poetry dealing with the Exodus but also is uniquely suited for adaptation into the prayer as a whole (see the Excursus on Habakkuk 3).

1. The Redeemer’s Coming (3:3-7)

The initial portion of Habakkuk’s psalm of praise has its orientation in Israel’s movement up from the Sinai peninsula through the Transjordanian countries on the way to the Jordan River crossing. The Exodus (cf. Ex. 15:1-10) and the movement to Sinai (cf. Ex. 15:11-13) have occurred; now after many years the final leg of the journey to Canaan is taking place. In these opening words God is seen leading the heavenly and earthly armies in their trek, a sight that strikes terror into the hearts of the citizens of that area. The poem, bookended by geographical terms (vv. 3, 7), has two stanzas (vv. 3-4, 5-7), the first of which is closed by a tricolon, the second by two tricola.

a. His appearance (3:3-4)

Eloah came* from Teman*, the Holy One* from Mount Paran*. (Selah*.)

His glory covered the heavens,

      and His praise* filled the earth.

4His brightness was like the light;

      rays* flashed from His very own hand,

      from the inner recesses of His strength*.

Exegesis and Exposition

The first poem deals with the movement from the southland. The historical perspective is variously understood, the majority opting for a relation to the theophany at Sinai (Armerding, Blue, R. Smith, von Orelli), some for Sinai as a representation of God’s triumphs, whether past (G. A. Smith) or future (Keil, Feinberg) or considered as a unit (Laetsch). W. F. Albright suggests its origin in “the period following the wilderness wanderings.”525 I am convinced that the orientation of the poem is the era of the wilderness wanderings, possibly in the final movement that led to the staging area from which the assault on Canaan would be made.

The poem opens with a description of God’s awesome appearance. Up from the Sinai peninsula to the south, through Edom and lower Transjordan, the heavenly entourage approaches the place from which the campaign against Canaan will be launched. The movement from the southeast is also mentioned in Judg. 5:4-5; Ps. 68:7-8 (HB 68:8-9); it seems to have been a vital element in Israel’s early epic tradition. Thus Cross, having underscored its importance, laments that “the relation of this motif, the march of Conquest, to the early Israelite cultus has been insufficiently studied.”526

The association of Yahweh with the south has in recent times been strengthened by texts discovered at Quntillet ‘Ajrud on the border between the southern Negev and the Sinai peninsula. One of them reads “I bless you by Yahweh of Teiman and his asherah.” A great deal of discussion has centered on the identification of this asherah and its association with Yahweh. Though many have suggested that the reference is to the name of a Canaanite goddess, the consort of Baal (e.g., Freedman), the matter is far from settled. André Lemaire offers compelling evidence that the word here refers to a sacred tree or grove, probably connected with cultic worship.527 In addition, because of Israel’s entrenched monotheism, it seems unlikely that a pagan deity would be affiliated with Yahweh as His consort, even in a splinter group far removed from the center of the Israelite cultus.

God is seen by His enemies not as Yahweh, Israel’s covenant God, but as Eloah, the Creator (Deut. 32:15) and Lord of the earth (Pss. 18:31 [HB 18:32]; 114:7). God is also declared to be the Holy One (Isa. 63), the one who convicts of sin and judges the world (Lev. 19:1; 20:7; Jer. 50:29; 51:5), but who is Israel’s Redeemer (Isa. 41:14; 43:1-3). The one whom Habakkuk had addressed in his second perplexity (Hab. 1:12) is the sovereign, holy God who had come long ago in all His glory.

Armerding suggests that the word for “glory” here, הוֹד ( ho‚d), “is used primarily of kingly authority (e.g. Num 27:20; 1 Chron 29:25; Ps 45:3; Zech 6:13), revealed preeminently in the Lord’s sovereignty over creation and history (cf. 1 Chron 16:27; 29:11-12; Job 40:10).”528 If so, it admirably reinforces the names for God here. He is thus seen in all His majesty and as the one whose splendor (cf. Job 37:22-23) permeates and transcends the heavens (Pss. 8:1 [HB 8:2]; 145:4).

It is no wonder, then, that His praise is said to fill the earth. Because the word translated “praise” sometimes means “splendor,”529 the effect is further enhanced. When one considers Him whose majestic splendor fills heaven and earth, he can but stand in awe of Him and sing His praises. This Habakkuk ultimately will do (Hab. 3:16-19).

In a graphic simile the brilliance of God’s glory is detailed. His splendor is said to be like the light. Although the root of נֹגַהּ ( no„gah) can be utilized of brightness in general (cf. Hab. 3:11) and Isaiah (Isa. 4:5; 60:13) employs it in describing the messianic era, it is characteristically used for the shining of the celestial luminaries (2 Sam. 23:4; Isa. 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:15 [HB 4:15]). Ezekiel uses it to describe the radiant brightness of the glory of God (Ezek. 1:4, 28; 10:4). The psalmist also employs the root to depict the divine theophany in a context parallel to that of Habakkuk 3:4 (Ps. 18:12, 18 [HB 18:13, 29]; cf. 2 Sam. 22:13, 29). Since Ezekiel’s use includes an association with fire (Ezek. 1:13, 27), and fire attended the appearance of God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16-19; Deut. 5:22-26; cf. Heb. 12:18-21), many commentators assume that the references in Habakkuk and Psalm 18 are to that event. But although Deut. 33:2 connects God’s glory with Sinai, it seems more likely that even there the reference is to Yahweh’s departure rather than to His glory as it descends upon Mount Sinai. The association of the glory of the Lord with Sinai is unmistakable; the point here, however, may be that the same glory that was seen at Mount Sinai and traveled with the people on their journeys (cf. Ex. 40:34-38) now moves in surpassing brilliance ahead of them.

Thus the primary thrust of the passage is on the theophany.530 The one who once appeared on Mount Sinai and who had filled the south-land with His glory now fills the heavens with splendor. Dazzling rays of light stream from that radiant glory, much like those from a glowing sun. These only point, however, to their source in the inner recesses of the omnipotent one.531 Keil puts it well:

In the sun-like splendour, with the rays emanating from it—is the hiding of His omnipotence, i.e. the place where His omnipotence hides itself; in actual fact, the splendour forms the covering of the Almighty God at His coming, the manifestation of the essentially invisible God.532

Additional Notes

3:3יָבוֹא (“come”): The form is preterite. The alternating of preterite and suffix-conjugation verbs is a mark of ancient Hebrew poetry and occurs throughout the double psalm that follows. Habakkuk will also employ it in conscious archaizing style in his concluding remarks (vv. 16-19).533

†Teman is the southernmost of Edom’s two chief cities. Edom itself is also called Teman (Obad. 9),534 the name stemming from a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:11, 15, 42; Jer. 49:7, 20) whose descendants inhabited the area. (For Esau = Edom, see Gen. 25:25, 30.) Edom was formerly called Mount Seir (Gen. 36:8-9; Deut. 2:12). Paran designates not only a mountain range west and south of Edom and northeast of Mount Sinai but also a broad desert area in the Sinai peninsula. (For the juxtaposition of Seir and Paran, see Gen. 14:6.) All three terms are used as parallel names for the southern area that stretched as far as the Sinai peninsula (cf. Deut. 33:1-2a; Judg. 5:4-5).

†The musical term selah (cf. vv. 9, 13), probably indicating an instrumental interlude, is discussed in a helpful excursus by P. C. Craigie in Psalms 1-50, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), pp. 76-77.

3:4 †Hiebert prefers to retain קַרְנַיִם in its usual sense of “horns,” pointing out a possible association with the word “strength” at the end of the verse. Such literalness does not seem necessary, however, in figurative poetry describing a theophany. In any case it makes for too rough a transition from the previous expressions. Nor is W. F. Albright’s suggestion to translate “(Yahweh) attacked like a bull(?)|| Provided with tossing horns” particularly helpful.535

עֻזֹּה (“his strength”): The spelling of the pronominal suffix reflects an older stage of the language. However, it is also attested in the later Lachish letters.536

b. His actions (3:5-7)

Plague went before Him,

      and pestilence went out at His feet.

6He stood and shook* the earth;

      He looked and made the nations tremble*.

The everlasting hills were shattered;

      the eternal hills were made low

      —His eternal courses*.

7I looked* on Tahath-Aven*;

      the tents of Cushan were trembling,

      the tent curtains of the land of Midian.

Exegesis and Exposition

As the holy God moves His hosts forward, His agents of judgment accompany Him. Plague is there (cf. Ex. 9:15; Deut. 28:21; Amos 4:10) and also pestilence* (cf. Deut. 32:24). Both seem to be personified here as though they made up part of the heavenly retinue (cf. Deut. 33:2-3). Keil observes: “Plague and pestilence, as proceeding from God, are personified and represented as satellites; the former going before Him, as it were, as a shieldbearer (1 Sam. xvii.7), or courier (2 Sam. xv.1); the latter coming after Him as a servant (1 Sam. xxv.42).”537

The first poem closes with a consideration of God’s initial strikes against the enemy, the scene portrayed dramatically in a double tricolon. Taking his stand, God throws into convulsion the age-old mountains (cf. Job 15:7; 20:4; Ps. 90:2 [HB 90:3]), the primeval paths (cf. Amos 4:13) of the one who “rides upon the heavens” (cf. Deut. 33:26; Ps. 68:33 [HB 68:34]). Whether the reference is to the hills of Transjordan, Canaan, or a widespread area of the Jordan Valley is unclear. The mention of such areas as Cushan* and Midian* would seem to favor the latter suggestion. Although tents and tent curtains are by metonymy singled out for special attention, the whole area from south to north felt the effects of God’s triumphant march. The Scriptures give evidence that seismic activity accompanied the Israelites at various stages of the Exodus, especially at the time of the conquest (Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7 [HB 18:8=2 Sam. 22:8]; 114:3-6). Under such conditions it is little wonder that the inhabitants of the area were struck with terror (cf. Ex. 15:14-16).538

Additional Notes

3:5 לְרַגְלָיו ... לְפָנָיו (“before him ... at his feet”) is set in chiastic arrangement.

The parallel lines have often been taken as evidence for viewing Deber as an epithet or alternative name of Resheph, the Canaanite god of pestilence and sterility.539

3:6וַיְמֹדֶד has customarily been translated either “measured” (RSV, KJV, NKJV; cf. NASB, “surveyed”) or “shook” (NIV; cf. LXX ἐσαλενvθη). The inappropriateness of the former meaning has led most critical expositors to favor the latter here. Scholars have suggested various biforms and alloforms to account for this understanding of מדד: (1) מוּד = מוּט (“crumble,” “set in reeling motion” — Keil), (2) מוּד = נָדַד/ נוּד (“move”—Hiebert; cf. מָטַט/ מוּט [“crumble”], נָטַט/ נוּט [“shake”]—Margulis), and (3) Arabic ma„da (“was convulsed”; G. R. Driver).

וַיַּתֵּר has occasioned several translations: διετάχη (“melt,” LXX), “drove asunder” (KJV), “startled” (NASB, NKJV), “shook” (RSV), made to tremble” (NIV). If the previous line is to be rendered “shook,” the NIV translation is the most appropriate. If the traditional understanding of מָדַד (“measure”) is retained, perhaps a root תּוּר (“spy out,” “survey”) might be suggested for the form here. The force of the following couplet and the dire effects of the preceding two favor a translation similar to that of the NIV for these two lines.

לוֹ עוֹלָם הֲלִיכוֹת: The line is difficult. It has usually been translated by the English versions “His ways are everlasting/eternal.” Albright suggested that the ל of the last word be combined with the first two words of v. 7 to read לתחתאן, an energic feminine plural of חָתָא with emphatic ל.540 So constructed, the newly constituted line would be translated “Eternal orbits were shattered.” While this suggestion is attractive and involves no consonantal revision, it leaves a metrical imbalance in vv. 6b and 7, which appear to have a 3/3/3 pattern. Further, the MT yields a reasonable sense as “His eternal courses.” The syntax of the line is reminiscent of Num. 23:22b: לוֹ רְאֵם כְּתוֹעֲפֹת (cf. Ps. 18:8 [HB]: לוֹ כִּי־חָרָה וַיִּתְגָּעֲשׁוּ).

3:7רָאִיתִי may be explained by recalling the similar employment of this verb in the Balaam oracles (Num. 23:9; 24:17). Indeed, the poet may have intended a deliberate pun or literary allusion to Num. 23:21: “He has not seen distress/wickedness in Jacob,|| nor has he looked upon trouble in Israel.”

The first line of v. 7 is difficult. It has frequently been taken with the first two words of the second line, leaving the last word of line two to be construed with line three. This makes for a smooth translation—”I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,|| the dwellings of Midian in anguish” (NIV)—and makes for a tolerable personification, but it leaves an unusually long pair of lines: 5/4. Despite the difficulty of the MT, it seems best to retain the more customary reading with its 3/3/3 meter.

The troublesome אָוֶו תַּחַת can be translated by the usual “in distress/affliction” but may perhaps be better taken as a geographical name paralleling Cushan and Midian in lines two and three. It may have been a name employed by the Hebrew poet to describe the general area where the enigmatic Cushan (= Egyptian Kushu?) and Midian were located—that is, southern Transjordan. If so, the whole verse forms a geographic inclusio with v. 3.541

The land of the Midianites is identified primarily with the southern part of Transjordan (e.g., Gen. 25:6; 36:35; Num. 10:29), and evidence now exists that Cushan was also located there. An interesting parallel to the biblical account here, including the seismic activity, is in a fragmentary inscription found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud. As pointed out by Hiebert, “the context is the battle of the divine warrior. His appearance is accompanied by light (cf. Hab 3:4a), and the response to it is reflected in the convulsion of the cosmos: the mountains are melted and their peaks crushed.”542 Such an inscription from the very area where the biblical account is set is particularly significant.

2. The Redeemer’s Conquest (3:8-15)

The second poem is a victory ode that sings of the mighty strength of Israel’s Redeemer. His power is displayed at the waters of testing (vv. 8-9b), unleashed in the natural world (vv. 9c-11), and viewed by the enemy (vv. 12-15). Whereas the first two sections deal in a general way with the entire Exodus event (but focus particularly on the final movement into Canaan), the final section fixes its attention on the initial stage of the Exodus. The opening stanza begins with a rhetorical question framed in staircase parallelism and set in an initiating tricolon (v. 8). The subject matter of v. 8 deals largely with God’s actions in connection with water, a theme to which the poet will return in a final bookending reference to God’s victory at the Red Sea (v. 15). From start to finish, Israel’s God is shown to be the victor over all individuals and nations and the champion of those who follow in His train.

a. His power as seen at the waters (3:8-9b)

Yahweh, were You angry* with the rivers*,

      or* was Your wrath against the streams*

      or Your fury against the sea

when You were mounted upon Your horses,

      Your chariots of salvation*?

9You laid bare* Your bow;

      You were satisfied* with the club* that You commanded. (Selah.)

Exegesis and Exposition

The rhetorical question with which the second poem begins is for emphasis and vividness of effect.543 Addressing God personally, Habakkuk asks whether His actions against the waters were born of anger. All three words for wrath here characterize God’s judicial activity against anything that opposes His will. The tricolon with which the verse begins swells in intensity with the depiction of God’s anger, which bursts through all resistance.

That wrath is said to be directed at the waters. Using phraseology drawn from the epic literature familiar to the people of the Levant, particularly of Syro-Palestine, Yahweh is portrayed metaphorically as Israel’s mighty warrior who appears in His battle chariot (v. 8), armed with bow (v. 9a), club (v. 9b), arrows (v. 11b), and spear (v. 11c). Though the literary allusion is probably to Baal’s dispatching of his enemy Yamm (Sea),544 here Yahweh is shown to be the true Master over the forces of nature.

This, however, is no cosmic battle between deities representing the forces of nature; Yahweh comes as Israel’s champion against human opponents. In giving His people the victory He utilizes His power over the elements to aid His people (cf. Judg. 5:19-21). Not only at the Exodus from Egypt itself (cf. Ex. 15:12-15) but also at the Jordan River Yahweh has shown Himself to be sovereign over all forces and events. Keil points out that these two episodes in Israel’s history demonstrate God’s control over everything “as the Judge of the world, who can smite in His wrath not only the sea of the world, but all the rivers of the earth.”545

The reference to waters here probably intends the activities of God in connection with the entire Exodus event. The theme of water is prominent not only in the triumph at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) but also in passing through the Jordan (Josh. 3-4). Perhaps some of the early victories in the land (e.g., Judg. 4-5) are envisioned. In accordance with His promise to defend His people (Deut. 32:40-42), the God who is the Creator of the abyss and seas (Gen. 1:6-8; Pss. 24:2; 104:6; 2 Pet. 3:5) and the controller of the Flood (Gen. 6-8; 2 Pet. 3:6) and all watery domains (Job 38:8-11; Pss. 24:2; 104:7-13; 2 Pet. 3:7) moves out in the Exodus against the waters (and all His enemies) on behalf of His own. As Lord of the waters and Commander of the armies, He mounts His chariot fully armed with weapons for the fray. Thus equipped for battle He sets out to meet all obstacles, whether natural forces or human enemies.

Additional Notes

3:8 †Hiebert follows Albright in suggesting that both occurrences of the final -m on נָהָר are enclitic.546 Many have pointed out the Ugaritic parallelism of ym|| nhr.547 Dahood also calls attention to the use of מַרְכְּבוֹת|| סוּס here.548 The final noun has been taken by Freedman as standing at the end of a broken construct chain.549

חָרָה (“be angry”) is a 3d masc. sing. qal perfect verb agreeing either with יהוה (“Yahweh, were you angry?” [cf. NIV] or “Was Yahweh angry?” [cf. NASB]) or with אַף (“anger”) in the parallel line, hence to be translated “burn” (“Did [your anger] burn against the rivers?”). I have followed the lead of the NIV in taking יהוה as a vocative and translating it ad sensum. The LXX reads ὠργίσθης (“Were you angry?”), thus making both lines formally parallel with respect to being in the second person. The enallage in the MT, however, is common enough so that such emendation is unnecessary.550

†The deletion in BHS of בַּנְּהָרִים אִם (“or against the streams”) is not supported in the ancient versions. Far from being redundant, the line represents the poetic convention of employing a tricolon to demarcate the boundary of a unit.551

†The translation of יְשׁוּעָה as “salvation” is traditional. Despite Keil’s objection, in a martial context, “victory” (RSV) or “victorious” (NIV) is also appropriate. The metonymy here is effective, God’s deliverance being represented by the “chariots of salvation.”552

3:9תֵעוֹר (“you laid bare”—i.e., the quiver full of arrows, here associated metonymically with the bow): The verbal root has been taken to be either עוּר (“be bare/exposed”) or עָרָה (“lay bare”). Hiebert proposes another possible confusion:

The confusion represented in the MT and many of the versions may be easily explained on the basis of old orthography. The consonants t’r in early orthography could be either a form of ‘wr, “to awaken,” or of ‘rh, “to be bare,” in the latter case the short preterit form of a final weak verb.553

With the former alternative the preceding עֶרְיָה is often repointed as a piel infinitive absolute (cf. BHS, Hiebert), yielding “You laid quite bare Your bow.”554 עֶרְיָה could of course be retained as an internal object from the same verbal root or semantic range as the verb, here placed first for emphasis (cf. Mic. 1:11) in a double accusative construction.555

The verb itself can be viewed either as a 2d masc. sing. or 3d fem. sing. imperfect (prefix conjugation), the choice depending on the understanding of the parallel line. Albright decides for the former and translates “Bare dost Thou strip Thy bow”;556 Keil follows the latter course: “Thy bow lays itself bare.”557 As for the troublesome second line, Margulis laments: “The second hemistich is patently impossible.”558 No consensus as to its translation has been reached. Laetsch points out that by his day Delitzsch had counted more than one hundred different interpretations of this difficult line.559

That the divine warrior’s weapons are taken in hand is clear from the parallel pair קֶשֶׁת|| מַטֶּה.560 The use of special weapons such as lightning is familiar from the literature of the ancient Near East. Thus Ward remarks: “Syrian and Hittite art frequently represents Adad-Ramman, god of storm, as armed with the same weapons, while the Babylonian art gave this western god the forked thunderbolt.”561

†For the MT שְׁבֻעוֹת (“oaths”) I have followed the lead of some ancient versions (Pesh., LXXBarb) and many scholars in reading (with no consonantal change) שִׁבַּעְתָּ (“you were satisfied”),562 an understanding attested elsewhere in contexts dealing with fighting and weaponry. In addition to Jer. 46:10, one may note the case of Anat’s fighting as recorded in the Baal cycle: “Anat fought hard and gazed (on her work), she battled ... until she was sated, fighting in the palace.”563 The NIV relates the MT consonants to שָׁבוּעַ (“heptad”) and translates “many arrows.” Although other versions trace the form to the verb שָׁבַע (“swear”; NASB, KJV, NKJV), some translate ad sensum: “You put (the arrow to) the string” (RSV; cf. NJB). Even though a final solution for the line is not forthcoming, its association with the preceding lines and the literary motif of the divine warrior make the general sense of God’s actions on behalf of His people clear enough.

†The final אֹמֶר may be understood as the name of God’s war club, the noun coming from a verbal root מָרַר (“drive out”).564 If so, it could be a veiled reflection of or scribal pun on Baal’s war weapon Aymur (“Expeller”).565 Perhaps the simplest solution is to view the final t of mat£t£o‚t as a double-duty consonant, yielding the translation given above.566

b. His power as seen in the natural world (3:9c-11)

You split open the earth* with rivers;

      10the mountains saw You; they trembled.

Torrents of water swept by;

      the deep gave its voice,

      it lifted its hands on high.

11Sun and moon* stood still in their lofty height*,

      at the light* of Your flying arrows,

      at the flash* of the lightning, Your spear.

Exegesis and Exposition

The scene changes from preparation to engagement in battle. Continuing the motif of the divine warrior, the psalm portrays the Lord’s striking with awesome force. Perhaps it is a club that is used first. As it smites the earth with titanic power, it splits the land open, the mountains crumble, and the subterranean waters and surface rivers (fed by an intense storm; cf. Gen. 7:12; 8:2; Judg. 5:21) overflow their natural boundaries (cf. Job 38:8-12; Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 [HB 18:8-16]; 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:16-19 [HB 77:17-20]; 144:5-6). Hiebert rightly declares:

The predominant image in this description of nature’s response is the agitation of cosmic waters. Three of the six cola in this subsection mention the waters. Subterranean rivers erupt (v 9b); water pours from the clouds (v 10a); and the deep roars (v 10b). Just as the ancient mountains, founded firmly on the waters at creation, are shaken (vv 6, 10a), so the cosmic waters, restrained at creation behind designated boundaries, break out.567

The waters of the abyss (Gen. 49:25; Deut. 33:13) are said to cry out and lift up their hands, perhaps in terror (Laetsch) or prayer (Delitzsch). As a figure of battle, this doubtless refers to the force with which the waters roar from their subterranean prisons and the tossing waves that cap the surface of the waters. The imagery of a plaintiff crying to the God who alone rescues from danger may also be present. If nature is subject to the omnipotent one, surely the case is no different for mankind (cf. Pss. 19:1-4 [HB 19:2-5]; 104:31-35; 148:1-4). In any event, the figure is appropriate to the theophany associated with the culminating moments of the Exodus. Indeed, the description in vv. 9c-10 fits well the details of the crossing of the Jordan, which report a river at flood stage (Josh. 3:15) and intense seismic activity (Ps. 114:3-6).568

The drama of warfare continues in v. 11 with a hyperbolic description of the celestial scene. The heavenly warrior shoots His arrows and hurls His spears so that the sun and the moon appear to stand still in their courses. They are largely obscured by the darkness that attends the heavy clouds, seen only intermittently amid the flashing lightning.569 The severity of the storm is underscored by the two tricola with which the unit ends; it is nothing less than the presence of Israel’s mighty God (cf. Ps. 29).

Is there a veiled reference here to the famous “long day” of Joshua recorded in the book of Jashar (Josh. 10: 12-13), as suggested in the Targum and by several Jewish (e.g., Rashi, Kimchi) and some Christian scholars (e.g., Hailey, Pusey)? If so, the Exodus epic must have contained several songs of the conquest period. In any case, the strophe (vv. 9c-11) is appropriate not only for describing the events of the Jordan crossing and the early conquest period but also for the imagery of theophany and the theme of judgment.570

Additional Notes

3:9cאָרֶץ in the first line (v. 9c) has been understood as either the subject or the object. Because the 2d masc. sing. verbal suffix is read in the following line, it seems best to retain the traditional understanding of תְּבַקַּע as a 2d masc. sing. verb and view “earth” as its object. Thus the sentence forms a syntactical parallel with the following lines where the activity of the mountains is recorded. “Earth” parallels “mountains” in several texts commemorating this event (e.g., Judg. 5:5; Ps. 18:7 [HB 18:8]).571

3:10 Hiebert calls attention to the juxtaposition of suffix- and prefix-conjugation verbs in רָאוּךָ and יָחִילוּ:

The shift from suffixal to prefixal forms here, as well as in the rest of the poem, is to be understood not as a shift between perfect and imperfect states but as the archaic use of perfect and preterit forms to convey past narrative, a practice best exemplified in Ugaritic poetry. The same sequence of these two verbs is in fact found in Ps 77:17 ( ráwk mym rh£ylw), part of an archaic theophany very similar to Hab 3:8-15.572

Hiebert also finds the influence of Ps. 77:17 (HB 77:18) in the next line, which he emends (with the support of a Hebrew fragment from Wadi Murabba’at) to read עָבוֹת מַיִם זֹרְמוּ (“clouds poured down water”).573 Though the conjecture is attractive and has the advantage of some ancient manuscript support and precedent in similar contexts (cf. also Judg. 5:4), the evidence is still too meager to set aside the MT עָבָר מַיִם זֶרֶם (“torrents of water swept by”), which has the support of the ancient versions.

For the parallelism of נָשָׂא|| נָתַז, see the remarks of M. Dahood in RSP 1:218. For the collocation of קוֹל and תְּהוֹם, see Dahood’s discussion in RSP 1:372-73.

3:10-11 †The lack of metrical balance at the end of v. 10 and the beginning of v. 11 has occasioned several suggestions for dividing the lines. Dahood takes רוּם with the first line of v. 10b and reads “the abyss gave forth its haughty voice.”574 Albright takes the שֶׁמֶשׁ of v. 11 with v. 10 and translates “The Exalted One, Sun, raised its arms.”575 The translation adopted here takes יָרֵחַ שֶׁמֶשׁ as a composite name, formed perhaps as a result of a deletion transformation so as to achieve the desired three poetic lines. The juxtaposition of sun and moon participating in earthly events is noted elsewhere (e.g., Josh. 10:12-13; Isa. 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:4; etc.). The words are of course familiar set terms.576

This proposal does away with the problem of the lack of connection between שֶׁמֶשׁ and יָרֵחַ and any incongruity between them and the MT sing. verb עָמַד (“stand”). It also yields (with the next verse) a closing double tricolon for the subunit dealing with God’s actions in the natural world (vv. 10b-11).

There is no textual support for the conjectural emendation of BHS, followed by some, to read “The sun forgets its rising” or the suggestion of the NEB to translate “The sun forgets to turn in its course.”

3:11זְבֻלָה (“[their] lofty height”): BHS proposes a repointing to זְבֻלֹה, the resultant masc. sing. suffix thereby agreeing with יָרֵחַ. However, the MT fem. ending can be explained as agreement with שׁמֶשׁ, often construed as a fem. noun.

Smith calls attention to the fact that זְבֻל used here for the dwelling place of the sun and moon is usually reserved for the “exalted dwelling place of God.”577 Since sun and moon are among the heavenly retinue, they may also be viewed as being where God dwells.578

לְנֹגַהּ ... לְאוֹר (“at the light ... at the flash”): Most modern translations take the subject of these prepositional phrases to be the sun and moon of the first line of the verse (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, NJB, RSV), an understanding found in some ancient versions (Vg, Pesh.) and followed by most commentators. The accents of the MT, however, indicate that the subject of the two lines in question is to be understood differently, as reflected in Ward’s translation:

For light thine arrows go forth,

For brightness the glittering of thy spear.579

So perceived, the two prepositional phrases are viewed as governed by subjects in their own lines. This arrangement is also reflected in the LXX, OL, and Tg. Neb. and followed by Hiebert, who translates the prepositional phrases under consideration adverbially: “brightly ... brilliantly.” Middle ground in the debate is found by Keil, who takes the prepositional phrases as dependent on the previous line but views “arrow” as the subject of the following verb, which he interprets as standing in a relative clause: “At the light of Thine arrows which shoot by, at the shining of the lightning of Thy spear.”580

Any of the proposed suggestions is somewhat satisfactory and yields essentially the same result. The translation given above follows the lead of Keil and the NIV in (1) relating the two lines in question closely and causally to the previous statement concerning the sun and moon and (2) taking the verb יְהַלֵּכוּ as subordinate to חִצֶיךָ (thus “your flying arrows”), but (3) repoints the construct noun בְּרַק (“lightning of”) as an absolute noun (“lightning”) and (4) takes the following “spear” as apposition. Thus the celestial luminaries are obscured by the brilliance of the electric storm.

c. His power as seen by the enemy (3:12-15)

In indignation You trod upon* the earth;

      in anger You trampled* the nations.

13You went out for the salvation of Your people,

      for the salvation of* Your anointed.

You smote the head of the house of evil;

      laying him bare* from his lower parts to his neck (selah),

      14You split his head with his own club*.

His warriors* stormed out;

      to scatter the humble was their boast,

      like devouring the poor in secret.

15You trod upon the sea with Your horses*,

      heaping up* many waters.

Exegesis and Exposition

Once again the scene is changed. With the initial phase of the attack in the natural world having been launched, Yahweh’s wrath is directed at those nations that have troubled His people. If the presence of God that spread across the sky sent the earth into cataclysmic upheaval, so much the more will God’s power moving through the area bring down the ungodly nations.

Habakkuk had begun his prophecy with a perplexity as to why God tolerated injustice or at least did not save the righteous from the unrighteous (1:2-3). When he was informed of God’s intention to use the godless Chaldeans to bring judgment to His people (1:5-11), Habakkuk was all the more perplexed (1:12-2:1). The words of the ancient epic poem that he now considers remind him of the just nature of God. Though the Lord may employ nations and people of all sorts to do His bidding, He will ultimately deal with them on their own merits (cf. Isa. 24:1-6; 63:1-6; Jer. 50:9-13; Hos. 1:4; Nah. 3:4). Further, He will deal with them according to their troubling of His people Israel (cf. Gen. 12:3; Isa. 26:12-20; Joel 3:1-8 [HB 4:1-8]; Obad. 14-15; Zeph. 2:10).

God’s indignation against the nations in this regard can mean the deliverance of His own people, as here. Indeed, salvation/deliverance was at the heart of the epic cycle concerning the Exodus (Ex. 15:2). God redeems His people out of Egypt (Ex. 15:1-10, 14-18; Hab. 3:12-15), carries them to Sinai where He reveals Himself to them (Ex. 15:11-13), and then, as their triumphant Redeemer, goes before them both to demonstrate His redemptive power to the nations and to bring His people victoriously into the land (Deut. 33:2-3; Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 [HB 18:8-16]; 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:16-19 [HB 77:17-20]; 144:5-6; Hab. 3:3-11). That Exodus theme is perpetuated throughout the OT (e.g., Num. 23:21-24; 24:8-9, 17-19; Deut. 4:35-40; Josh. 23:3-6), especially among the prophets who build upon it in looking forward to the final salvation of Israel in a future day (e.g., Isa. 10:20-22; 25:9; 35:4; 41:11-16; 43:1-13; 49:8-26; 50:11; 52:7-10; 54:6-10; Jer. 23:5-8; 32:37-44; Ezek. 34:11-16; 36:24-38; 37:21-28; Hos. 2:14-3:5; Joel 2:31-32 [HB 3:4-5]; Amos 9:11-15; Obad. 17; Mic. 2:12-13; 4:1-7; 5:5-15; Nah. 1:13-15; Zeph. 3:8-20; Hag. 2:23; Zech. 14:3; Mal. 4:5-6).

The salvation of God’s anointed* is singled out for particular attention. Although historically the term here probably has reference to Moses, it can be applied also to the ruling member of the Davidic line, whose future coming was recorded by Moses (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:19). David understood his role as God’s anointed (2 Sam. 7:8-29; 23:1-7), and the Scriptures from his time forward proclaim the inviolability of the far-reaching provisions in the Davidic Covenant (cf. Pss. 2; 45:2-7; 89:3-4, 19-24, 27-37 [HB 89:4-5, 20-25, 28-38]; 110; Jer. 33:19-26; Ezek. 34:20-31) that will find their ultimate realization in Israel’s Messiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 48:16-17; 49:1-7; 52:13-53:12; Jer. 23:5-8; Ezek. 37:24-28; Zech. 9:9; cf. Isa. 61:1-2 with Luke 4:18-19; see further Luke 1:68-78; Acts 2:29-36; 3:24-26; 15:16-17; Rev. 11:15). Accordingly A. G. Nute’s observation is well taken:

Nor is this great statement to be confined to the events of Habakkuk’s day, or to the fortunes of Israel. It is satisfied only when applied to the advent of Him of whom it was said, ‘you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (Mt. 1:21).581

The last two lines of v. 13 and the first line of v. 14 form a tricolon filled with problems, chief of which is the figure involved. Does God’s smiting* refer to the defeat of a mythological figure (Albright, Hiebert, R. Smith), the kingdom of the ungodly (von Orelli) with Satan at its head (Laetsch, Pusey), or a wicked enemy (Fausset, Margulis) such as Pharaoh (Armerding), the Chaldeans (Feinberg, Hailey), or the Chaldeans as representative of all godless nations (Keil)? Because the primary orientation of these verses is the Exodus redemption, probably the historical reference is to Pharaoh and the armies of Egypt over whom God in Moses, His anointed, achieved the victory. The idea of a victorious Redeemer could be applied to the subsequent defeat of the enemy in the land (cf. Josh. 6; 10:12-13; Judg. 5:19-23; etc.) and to all the victories that the Lord gave to Israel (e.g., 2 Kings 19:32-36) and will yet accomplish in a future day (Ps. 110:5-6; Isa. 17:12-14; 24:21-23; 34:1-4; 63:1-6; 66:14-16, 22-24; Ezek. 38-39; Joel 3:9-17 [HB 4:9-17]; Amos 9:11-12; Obad. 19-21; Mic. 4:11-13; Zeph. 3:8-11; Hag. 2:20-22; Zech. 12:2-4; 14:1-5; Mal. 4:1-3; etc.).

Accordingly, Armerding points out that

this verse provides further evidence of the double perspective of the chapter: the oppression in Egypt foreshadows subsequent oppression, and the deliverance at the Red Sea embodies the promise of subsequent deliverance. The term “anointed one” lends itself more readily to later usage, both with reference to the preexilic kings and in anticipation of the eschatological Messiah.582

Doubtless this feature of the psalm was not lost on Habakkuk. He would have found encouragement and comfort in applying the passage to the coming defeat of the Chaldeans. Thus Blue remarks:

God had destroyed Pharaoh’s horsemen who pursued Israel (Ex. 14:23-28) and other leaders (Num. 21:23-25; Josh. 6:2; 8:28-29; 10-11). If God could do this, He could destroy Babylon. Belshazzar, also a “leader” in a “land of wickedness,” was stripped of his power (Dan. 5:26-28, 30-31).583

An added problem, but one related to the first, has to do with the employment of the word רֹאשׁ ( ro„ásŒ, “head”)*. Should both occurrences of this term be applied literally to the head of an individual (Albright) or creature (Hiebert), to the upper part of a house,584 or to the godless leader of the nations (Fausset)? Could a double reference be intended here,585 such as ro„ásŒ meaning the wicked leader presented under the figure of a house (Keil, Laetsch)? Because Cassuto has shown that the controlling verb ( מָחַץ) is commonly used in Ugaritic and the OT to signify a blow that a warrior gives to his enemy,586 it seems best to understand an instance of paronomasia and differentiate the uses of ro„ásŒ, viewing the first as the enemy leader but the second as a literal head. So understood, the general statement (v. 13c) is taken up with the image of personal mortal combat. Yahweh first wounds (perhaps with the spear) the enemy so gravely that his body is laid open with a gaping hole (v. 13b); He then delivers the coup mortel to the head with His foe’s own mace (v. 14a).

The referent of the poetic imagery (if one is demanded587) is difficult to ascertain. The poetry may simply celebrate God’s general victory over Pharaoh, or it may contain a veiled reference to Pharaoh’s defeat in the plague of the firstborn.

The poem closes (vv. 14b-15) with details that provide a follow-up to the previous scene. The enemy’s warriors storm out against the people of God like brigands coming upon the helpless. Keil’s comments on the simile are to the point: “The enemies are compared to highway murderers, who lurk in dark corners for the defenseless traveller, and look forward with rejoicing for the moment when they may be able to murder him.”588 The event commemorated here may be the Egyptians’ pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews (Ex. 14:5-9). If so, the last verse of the poem is doubly apropos: it not only sings of the miraculous deliverance of the children of Israel through the “many waters” (cf. Ex. 15:10) of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13-22, 29-31) but also bookends the theme of God’s action against waters with which the poem began (v. 8).

If, as suggested above, v. 8 deals primarily with the events toward the end of the Exodus experience, v. 15 produces the basis for the whole chain of events: the great deliverance from Egypt.589 The double psalm thus ends on a note of redemption. Israel’s God, who brought them through the waters of testing with a mighty power that left all nature in convulsion and who led His people in triumph, was the one who had been with them since the deliverance out of Egypt. A victorious Redeemer, He could be counted on to save once more a repentant and submissive people. This truth should prove to be a source of assurance for a troubled prophet. “Just as God went through the Red Sea in the olden time to lead Israel through, and to destroy the Egyptian army, so will He in the future go through the sea and do the same, when He goes forth to rescue His people out of the power of the Chaldaean.”590

Additional Notes

3:12תִּצְעַד (“you trod upon”): The verb occurs with יָצָא elsewhere in the epic literature detailing God’s actions on behalf of His people during the Exodus event (Judg. 5:4; Ps. 68:7 [HB 68:8]). LXX ὀλιγώσεις (“you will diminish”) probably represents a reading תִּצְעַר (“you will grow insignificant”), doubtless due to confusion between the consonants ד and ר.

תָּדוּשׁ (“you trampled”) is picturesquely rendered in the Vg obstupefacies, “you will render senseless/stupefy.” The term is a key one in the double psalm. Thus Armerding observes:

The common metaphor of threshing implies violent shaking and crushing, which also characterizes the effects on the “earth” and mountains as the Lord “strode” by (Judg 5:4-5; Ps 68:7-8; cf. 1 Kings 19:11-12; Ps 77:18-19). Thus v. 12 also recapitulates the imagery of earthquake from v. 10: in effect it resumes and integrates the content of both vv. 3-7 and vv. 8, 9-11 at the introduction to this concluding section (vv. 12-15), in which the goal of the Lord’s “wrath” and salvation becomes evident whether acting on the “earth” or the “nations.”591

The parallel pair זַעַם|| אַף appears elsewhere of God’s indignation against His enemies (e.g., Isa. 30:27). Especially instructive is Isa. 10:5 where not only this pair is found but also מַטֶּה (Hab. 3:9) appears: “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath.”

3:13לְיֵּשַׁע (“for the salvation of”) is rendered as an infinitive by the LXX: του` σῶσαι (“to save”; cf. Tg. Neb.). On the basis of OT usage, however, one would expect an infinitival form לְהוֹשִׁיעַ, unless as Dahood suggests the MT should be repointed to read לְישַׁע (yiphil infinitive construct).592 Albright (cf. NIV) translates both cases of לְיֵשַׁע as infinitives.593

The appearance of the particle אֶת־ after the second לְיֵשַׁע has added to the difficulty. D. N. Freedman considers this to be an example of a broken construct chain and translates the phrase “for the salvation of your anointed.”594 The particle should probably be viewed as an instance of its use with a noun carrying an implied causative verbal force, an employment expanded from its normal function of marking the definite direct object of a verb. Its force is thus emphatic here.595 One could also adopt Pusey’s suggestion of taking אֶת as the preposition “with”; however, this would obscure the parallelism between the two lines, unless “with” is to be understood in both lines even though it appears only in the second:

You went forth for victory with your people,

for victory with your anointed one.596

The term מְשִׁיחֶךָ (“your anointed”) has been taken as referring to the nation Israel (Ewald, Hitzig, Barker), to Israel’s Davidic king (R. Smith; cf. 2 Sam. 23:1), or to the Messiah (Hailey, Keil, Laetsch, von Orelli). If the reference is primarily historical and has in view the era of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, the term must refer to Moses. Although “Your anointed” seemingly forms a parallel to “Your people,” Israel is nowhere else called by this term. Rather, “the anointed” is customarily reserved for individuals such as the high priest (Ex. 40:13) or the king (2 Sam. 23:1; note also Cyrus, Isa. 45:1). If Moses is intended, Pusey may be right in suggesting that the אֶת is to be taken as the preposition “with” (cf. Vg in salutem cum Christo tuo), for God promised Moses that He would be with him (Josh. 1:5; note, however, that the preposition there is עִם).597

3:13c-14a רֹאשׁ (“head”): Hiebert notes the progression of thought in the lines and so proposes deleting the first ראֹשׁ and emending מִבֵּית (“from the house of”) to בָּמַת (“the back of”). He cites examples from Ugaritic and Mesopotamian literature where a warrior delivers a blow first to the body and then to the head. The proposal given in the Exegesis and Exposition likewise draws upon ancient Near Eastern literary precedent in that a blow is given first to the body of the foe and then crushingly to the head. But contrary to Hiebert, it retains the reading of the MT. This understanding has several advantages: (1) It preserves the received text with a smooth transition that moves from identifying the enemy to describing personal combat. (2) It maintains contact with the details of two-stage fighting attested in the ancient literature, such as Marduk’s slaying of Tiamat first by delivering an arrow down her throat and then by a crushing blow to her skull,598 the Egyptian Sinuhe’s dispatching of his Amorite foe by an arrow to the neck followed by a deathblow with his battle-axe,599 and Baal’s defeat of Yamm with a blow first to the body and then to the head.600 (3) It has numerous interesting points of contact with stories of personal combat, such as the final blow delivered with the enemy s own weapon (in addition to the case of Sinuhe may be mentioned David’s decapitation of Goliath, 1 Sam. 17:51) and the striking coincidence that the Akkadian word used for the bodily part upon which Marduk stands (Enuma Elish IV: 129), isŒdu (“foundation”), is cognate with יְסוֹד (“lower part,” “foundation”; cf. NASB “thigh”) found in Hab. 3:13. In light of all of this (see also the next note), no emendation of the MT is necessary.

עָרוֹת (“laying bare”) is best taken as an infinitive absolute detailing the activity of the main verb.601 This eliminates the need for repointing the form as a 2d masc. sing. piel suffix-conjugation verb (cf. BHS), a reading suggested in the LXX and Vg. The “laying bare” (or “stripping”) probably does not intend denuding the foe (cf. 2 Sam. 10:4; Isa. 20:4). The word can mean “laying bare by removal” (cf. Gen. 24:20; 2 Chron. 24:11). So construed here it would refer to taking away the weapons and defenses of the foe, so that whatever weapons or defenses he might possess would be rendered useless. A third possibility exists, however: “laying bare” could refer to severe wounding or loss of life (cf. Ps. 141:8). If so, this act is then followed by the traditional blow to the head. On the whole, the parallel with the scriptural and extrabiblical literature favors the last suggestion.

3:14 †For the MT 3d masc. sing. suffix pronoun in בְמַטָּיו (“with his club/spear/shafts”; cf. Vg; Tg. Neb.) BHS suggests a 2d masc. sing. suffix pronoun (cf. LXXBarb). But the Greek tradition may be an accommodation to the previous חִצֶּיךָ in v. 11. The translation “club” is retained here (cf. v. 9), the plural being viewed as one of composition or intensification.602

פְרָזָו (“his warriors”): The word has been variously rendered as “villages” (KJV, NKJV; cf. Laetsch “villagers”), “rulers/leaders” (LXX), “throngs/hordes” (NASB, Keil, R. Smith), “warriors” (Vg, NJB, NIV, RSV). The latter idea seems most appropriate to the context here and suits as well that of another early Hebrew poem found in Judg. 5:7.603

The last three lines of v. 14 are obscure. Thus Hiebert laments:

The remainder of v 14 is the lengthiest textual puzzle of the chapter. The next four words of the MT are understood very differently by the OG, and differently still by Barb. And the final four words of the MT, though confirmed by the OG and Barb, are hard to understand in the context. The disparity among the versions at this point in the poem indicates an ancient disruption in the text which may no longer be possible to correct.604

The position taken here suggests that there are three lines of text in a 2/3/3 pattern rather than the two lines of 3/4 as traditionally rendered. Key to understanding is the dividing of לַהֲפִיצֵנִי into two words: פּוּץ (“scatter”) and צְנִיעַ (“humble”) by viewing the צ as another example of a double-duty consonant. The resultant translation not only yields better sense but also parallels צְנִיעַ (“humble”) and עָנִי (“poor”). So construed, צְנִיעַ would take its place alongside such words as אֶבְיוֹן in context with עָנִי.605

3:15 †For the figure of God treading upon the sea, see Ps. 77:19 (HB 77:20).606 סוּסֶיךָ is an adverbial accusative absolute, which, in compressed language, complements the action of the main verb and governs the sense of the following line. The preposition of line one is also to be understood in the second line.607

†The LXX ταράσσοντας (“stirring up”; cf. NIV) represents a valid understanding of the MT חמר (cf. Ps. 46:4). However, the idea of the heaping up of the waters (cf. KJV, NKJV) is not inappropriate to the context, particularly as one that originates in the epic literature concerning the Exodus (cf. Ex. 15:8; Josh. 3:13, 16). BHS suggests the addition of בְּ to חֹמֶר (cf. Vg, Tg. Neb.), taking the resultant form as a preposition with a noun, “on the surge” (cf. NASB).

C. The Prophet’s Pledge To The Redeemer’s Purposes

Habakkuk ends his prophecy with affirmations of personal commitment and praise. Having been dramatically reminded of the past exploits of God against the wicked and His saving intervention on behalf of His people, the prophet is overwhelmed. Now that he understands who God is and the principles and methods of His activities, it is enough for Habakkuk. He will trust Him through the coming hour of judgment and rejoice no matter what may happen (vv. 16-18). Borrowing phraseology from the repertoire of ancient Hebrew poetry, he closes the account of his spiritual odyssey on a high note of praise (v. 19).

From a literary perspective the passage is marked by chiasmus (vv. 16, 19) and simile (v. 19), is linked to the previous section by means of the stitch-words דָּרַךְ ( da„rak, “tread/walk”; v. 19; cf. v. 15) and יָשַׁע ( ya„sŒaà, “save/deliver”; v. 18; cf. vv. 8, 13), and is constructed with the divine name Yahweh (vv. 18, 19), the root רגז (rgz, v. 16), and the statement “I have heard” (v. 16) as bookending devices designed to form an inclusio with the opening section (v. 2) of the chapter. All this provides a unity to the chapter that allows it to form a grand liturgical psalm of prayer.

1. A Statement Of The Prophet’s Trust In The Redeemer (3:16-18)

I heard and my inward parts* trembled,

      my lips quivered* at the sound;

decay* came into* my bones,

      and I moved with faltering footsteps*.

I will rest* during the day of distress (and)

      during the attack against the people invading us.

17When* the fig tree has not blossomed*

      and there is no fruit on the vines,

the olive crop has failed*

      and the fields* have produced no food,

the flock has been cut off* from the fold*

      and there is no cattle in the stalls*,

18I will rejoice in Yahweh,

      I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.

Exegesis and Exposition

Habakkuk had asked that God show mercy to His people in the midst of judgment and that God would make alive once more His great deeds of old (v. 2). In answer to His prophet, God had reminded him afresh of His mighty works at the time of the Exodus, as sung by the ancient poets. Had Habakkuk also been allowed a visionary glimpse of those past exploits? Many think so (e.g., Laetsch, Nute, R. Smith). Typical of these scholars is Blue, who, having suggested that the prophet was ushered into the presence of God, remarks with regard to that experience, “Obviously anyone who witnessed this amazing display of God’s power would be left in awe. Habakkuk was no exception. He had asked for a show of God’s might (v. 2). Little did he realize what a display it would be.”608 Whether Habakkuk was allowed to behold the theophanic splendor of old in a vision or simply visualized it himself as God impressed the words on his heart, the effect was staggering.

The prophet reports that he was so shaken by the overwhelming prospect of what he had understood that he convulsed to the depths of his being. His lips quivered, and it seemed as though his very bones were coming apart, perhaps decayed to the marrow. He reeled uncertainly on his feet, for the ground beneath him seemed to undulate incessantly. As Keil observes, “alarm pervades his whole body, belly, and bones.”609 And yet Habakkuk was to experience what Paul later declares: “Whenever I am weak, at that very moment I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).610 Quickly he was flooded with the implications of all that had happened and had been revealed to him. He could take comfort in knowing that although God will chastise His people, the vicious Chaldeans will likewise undergo divine punishment. Further, he understood that what he had prayed for (v. 2) was in keeping with God’s own nature: He was a God of judgment as well as of mercy (cf. Deut. 32:34-43). Therefore, when the day of distress comes for Judah, Habakkuk can rest secure in the assurance that God is in charge of everything, working it all out in accordance with His perfect will. He could also be at peace as the God of justice repays the Chaldean invaders for their crimes against Judah and all humanity (cf. Gen. 12:3; Deut. 30:7; Joel 3:1-3 [HB 4:1-3]; Nah. 1:2; 3:1-7; etc.).

Habakkuk’s new resolve and trust are immediately apparent (vv. 17-18). When the time of trouble comes for Judah, disrupting the productivity of the land and the security of the cattle, Habakkuk will not only remain at peace, resting in the sufficiency of God, but will rejoice through it in Him who alone is his (and Israel’s) Savior.611 The words for “rejoicing*” here represent strong emotions. Habakkuk had used them previously to express his anxiety over the unbridled avarice of the Chaldeans (1:14-15). His choice of them here underscores his repentant heart and triumphant faith. Together they express his resolve not merely to rest in the Lord’s will through everything that would come to pass but to rejoice fully in his saving God. Israel’s covenant Lord was yet on the throne; that meant eventual blessedness for prophet and people alike (cf. Deut. 30:1-10).

Additional Notes

3:16 Several instances of chiasmus are found in vv. 16-19, two of which occur here. Thus “hearing” and “lips” are set chiastically in lines 1 and 2 to emphasize two means of sensory activity. Verse 16 is arranged so that verbs enclose the whole verse. רגז also appears chiastically in lines 1 and 4. This root is a key one in chap. 3, being found twice here and once each in vv. 2 and 7. The last line of v. 16 contains an example of enjambment.

בִּטְנִי (“my inward parts”): the noun בֶּטֶן has several meanings, such as “belly” (KJV), “body” (NKJV, RSV), “womb.” In several places it refers to the personal inner recesses (cf. Job 15:35; 32:18; Prov. 18:8; 20:27, 30; 22:18; 26:22) where a person’s deepest desires lodge (Job 20:20, 23). The NIV rendering “heart,” however, is not inappropriate. The translation given above follows the NASB.

עָלֲלוּ (“quivered”) is supported by the Vg: contremuerunt, “trembled violently,” “quaked.” The LXX “prayer” (cf. Tg. Neb.), which rests on the Aramaic root עְלָא (“pray”), scarcely makes sense in context. It surely is not the sound of the prophet’s own praying that produces the trembling described in the following lines.

יָבוֹא (“came into,” “entered”) is a preterite. The prophet here accommodates himself to the archaic style of the previous poems concerning the theophany.

רָקָב (“decay”) is rendered in the LXX τρόμος (“trembling”; cf. Tg. Neb.). Although some suggest that such an understanding might be related to Arabic raqaba (“observe”) with a derived meaning “fear” (i.e., God),612 it is more likely that the Greek translators are simply {1.258} carrying on the thought that appears in the first and fourth lines. The MT is supported by the Vg putredo (“rottenness”).

†As pointed by the Masoretes, אֲשֶׁר is the relative particle. So construed, it must be related syntactically to the two lines that follow (cf. KJV, NKJV, NASB). But to do so ruins the poetic balance, for it leaves the line with only two words and assigns four words to the next line.613 Accordingly, the consistent 3/3 meter of the verse is upset.

To alleviate the imbalance BHS suggests reading אֲשֻׁרָי (“my steps”), a proposal followed by the RSV. Others simply translate ad sensum, e.g., “my frame” (LXX) or “my legs” (NJB). Taking the noun as the subject of the line, however, necessitates an emendation of the preceding 1st com. sing. verb. Therefore the resolution of the problem adopted here is to retain the consonants of the MT but to repoint the two words in question as אֲשׁוּר אַרְגִּיז (“I experienced a trembling [foot]step614 [beneath me]”) and translate the whole line ad sensum: “And I moved with faltering footsteps.”

יְגוּדֶנּוּ ... אָנוּחַ (“I will rest [during] ... [the people] invading us”): Hiebert follows S. R. Driver, who declares that “this and the next line are most obscure and uncertain, the Hebrew being in parts ambiguous, and the text open to suspicion. . . . The case is one in which it is impossible to speak with confidence.”615 The MT, however, can be explained as it stands. What is not so clear is against whom the coming calamity will be directed: Judahites (KJV, NKJV, NASB) or Chaldeans (NIV, NJB, RSV).

Because of the emotional fervor of the moment, the opening אָנוּחַ has often been considered inappropriate to the context.616 Accordingly the verb has often been taken to mean “wait patiently” (NASB, NIV, NJB, RSV). But this is a sense that it does not bear elsewhere in the MT. Many have suggested emendations such as אֶאָנַח (“I groaned/moaned,” Hiebert, Ward) or אֲחַכֶּה (“I await,” BHS). Nevertheless, if R. L. Harris is correct in his assessment that נוח “signifies not only the absence of movement but being settled in a particular {1.259} place (whether concrete or abstract) with overtones of finality, or (when speaking abstractly) of victory, salvation, etc.,”617 the sense that is needed here is provided.

In the midst of conflict and distress, the prophet rests securely in the knowledge of God’s purposes. It is a rest of the spirit (cf. Isa. 28:2) in full trust in the redeeming God. So construed, the lamed with יוֹם (“day”) and the following phrase is one of specification (“with respect to”)618 or time (“during/at”).619 Thus Habakkuk will be at rest with God as the day of affliction takes its course.

With this understanding, לעלות in the next line can be viewed as a parallel thought: “during the going up” (to war). Although the lamed with עַם (“people”) could be again a lamed of specification, it is best to take the preposition in its usual sense of “direction toward,” here in the hostile sense of “against.”620 יְגוּדֶנּוּ can then be understood as occurring in subordination: “who will invade us.” The verb גּוּד (“invade /attack”621) also occurs with an energic force, as here, in Gen. 49:19, another piece of ancient poetry.622

Habakkuk is thus considering the total picture of distress that is to come upon his nation and the Chaldeans. If one takes the first of the two parallel lines as applying primarily to the Judahites and the second as in asyndetic parataxis with the first so as to dramatize the situation with the Chaldeans, a balance is thereby achieved. Habakkuk will take his rest both during the day of distress for his people and during the judgment of the Chaldeans, Judah’s invaders.623

3:17כִּי (“when/while”): Because v. 17 can be understood as forming a contrast with v. 18, many translations render this particle concessively: “although” (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV). However, the LXX, Vg, and Pesh. treat it causally (“because”), a procedure followed by the NJB (although it renders v. 17 parenthetically).624 The temporal use is probably to be preferred. Thus, when adversity takes {1.260}place around him (v. 17), Habakkuk will put his full confidence in God (v. 18).

תִפְרָח (“has not blossomed”): The verb is once again a preterite in conscious archaizing style. Together with the following suffix-conjugation verbs, it serves as the basis for the prophet’s actions in the next verse.625

The products and resources mentioned in v. 17 were vital to Israel’s economy. In addition, the fig tree and the vine had spiritual significance, for they symbolized the blessing of God upon an obedient people (cf. Hos. 2:12; Amos 4:9 with 1 Kings 4:25 [HB 5:5]; 2 Kings 18:31; see also Ps. 105:33; Isa. 36:16; Jer. 5:17; 8:13; Joel 2:19, 24; Hag. 2:19; Zech. 3:10). Likewise, olive oil and the grain of the field (as well as the cattle) were objects of God’s blessing (cf. Num. 18:12; Deut. 7:13; 11:14; 28:51; 2 Kings 18:32; Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19; Hag. 1:11). עֹאן and בָּקָר are often used together to represent the totality of cattle, both small and large.626 Thus the failure of all these resources had serious economic and spiritual ramifications.

כִּחֵשׁ (“has failed”): The verb usually means “be disappointing,” “deceive” (cf. NJB). Because the disappointment concerns the failure of the expected produce (cf. Hos. 9:2), the context calls for the meaning “fail,” as recognized by most English translations.

שְׁדֵמוֹח (“fields”): Although the plural is twice used of terraced lands (2 Kings 23:4; Jer. 31:40), it was also employed with grapes and vines in Deut. 32:32; Isa. 16:8, so that “vineyard” is a likely possibility not only in these passages but also in Hab. 3:17. But the following אֹכֶל (“food”) makes a final decision difficult. I have retained the traditional denotation “fields.”

גָּזַר (“be cut off”): I follow the lead of Hiebert in understanding the form in a passive sense.627

מִכְלָה (“[sheep]fold”) is probably a biform of מִכְלָא, although Keil suggests that it is a feminine form contracted from מִכְלָאָה. The MT significance is supported by the Vg and LXXBarb against the LXX βρώσεως (“meat/eating”), a translation probably based upon a conjectured מַאֲכָלָה (cf. Hab. 1:16).{1.261}

בָּרְפָתִים (“in the stalls”): The meaning of this hapax legomenon is assured both from the parallel lines and the ancient versions. Although the prepositions מִן and בְּ occur in parallelism here, they are not being used interchangeably.628

3:18אָגִילָה אֶעְלוֹזָה (“I will rejoice, I will be joyful”): The etymologies of these synonyms could suggest that the former lays stress on the audible singing of God’s praises (cf. Ps. 149:5), whereas the latter implies physical movement (cf. Ps. 2:11). But an examination of their use in contexts in which they are closely associated does not support such a distinction (cf. Pss. 96:11, 12; 149:2, 5; Zeph. 3:14, 17), and no such contrast is apparent here.

2. A Concluding Note Of Praise To The Redeemer (3:19)

Yahweh is my Lord* (and) my strength;

      He makes my feet like those of a deer

      and makes me walk on the heights.*

To the director of music; on my stringed instruments.*

Exegesis and Exposition

Habakkuk closes his prophecy with a climactic tricolon that draws upon the phraseology of the epic cycle that had so greatly affected him. He declares that Yahweh is his Lord and strength (cf. Ex. 15:2). The order is significant. Whatever strength he has he owes to the one who is his strength; but basic to everything is the fact that Yahweh is his Lord and his Master, the center of his life.

Habakkuk’s use of divine titles reflects his spiritual journey. God’s prophet had entertained several doubts. A number of matters concerning God’s working and the life of faith had haunted him. Addressing God as the covenant Lord of Israel ( יהוה YHWH), he had carried these problems to Him with heavy heart (1:2-4). When the Lord had answered his uncertainties in a way that left him somewhat more perplexed (1:5-11), Habakkuk reminded God (1:12) that He was not only Israel’s covenant Lord (YHWH) but “my God ( אֱלֹהַי, áe†lo„hay), my Holy One ( קְדֹשִי, qeŒdo„sî).” The divine titles reminded God that, though He was the God of all things, His primary attribute is that of holiness. Therefore, although He might have the power and authority to send a {1.262}nation like the Chaldeans, would it be just for a holy God to use so unholy an instrument to punish His people (1:12-2:1)?

In reporting the Lord’s answer to his second perplexity, Habakkuk again used the covenant designation YHWH (2:2). That response had made plain to Habakkuk that the Lord truly is in control of all history. Nevertheless, he uses human agency and institutions to accomplish His purposes. In so doing the distinction between the wicked on the one hand and the righteous who live by faith on the other becomes clear (2:4). Habakkuk learned that even the foremost power of the world is subject to God. Indeed, Israel’s covenant Lord is the God of all people and even now is in His holy Temple to receive their acquiescence and adoration (2:20).

While the Lord’s answer was satisfying to Habakkuk so that he appreciated the statement relative to the principles of God’s just operations in the world, he was yet concerned for his people. Would Judah’s chastisement be too severe for her to bear? Would an omnipotent God be too harsh in His punishment? Habakkuk pleaded with the Lord to show mercy amid the coming judgment. In so doing he once again employed the title YHWH (3:2). Much like Job (Job 38-41), what Habakkuk needed was a clear perception of how God acted. This was supplied to him through his consideration of the epic material relative to the Exodus (3:3-15). There he saw God in all His might ( אֱלוֹהַ, áe†lo‚ah) and yet in His holiness ( קָדוֹשׁ, qa„do‚sŒ, 3:3). It was He who delivered His people from the might of Egypt and led them to the land of promise (3:3-7). He is Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel (3:8), and as such He is Israel’s Redeemer and victor (3:8-15). Yahweh, Israel’s Lord and the judge of all mankind, is in charge of earth’s history. He also has a righteous concern for His covenant people. Accordingly He can be counted on to deal properly with Judah’s case and to fulfill His age-old promises to them.

The consideration of God in action was enough for Habakkuk:

Habakkuk, though he did achieve a degree of intellectual understanding, came to terms with God in the experience of theophany. Though he began this encounter in dialogue and rational argument, the real turning point in his relationship with God was the result of a vision of the Living God.629

Gone were his fears, doubts, and perplexities. He would trust in Yahweh and rejoice in his saving God ( יִשְׁעִי אֱלֹהֵי, áe†lo„he‚ yisŒàî, 3:18). Israel’s Redeemer was his, the Master ( אָדוֹן, áa„do‚n) from whom alone he gained his strength (3:19). So near to God does Habakkuk now feel that in a bold simile he likens his spiritual climb to that of a hind {1.263}swiftly ascending to the mountaintops and gracefully gliding over them.

Victory at last! Israel’s Lord (YHWH) was truly Habakkuk’s own, his leader and guide. God’s prophet had walked a precarious path. But lest we condemn Habakkuk too readily, we need to remember that the Lord did not do so; He merely corrected him. Ultimately Habakkuk’s implanted faith bore spiritual fruit. The prophecy of Habakkuk thus not only reminds its readers of the central principles of life (2:4, 20) and of the final triumph of good through God’s control of history (3:3-15) but also provides important insight into a believer’s personal relationship with his God. When times of doubt and discouragement come, as they inevitably do, the believer needs to come to God, as did Habakkuk, and share his concerns with Him. Like Habakkuk, he needs to come to God’s Word and get a fresh glimpse of who and what God is and so come to a place of renewed trust in the one who alone is truly God and therefore sufficient for all of life. May Habakkuk’s test of faith and triumphant joy in his saving Lord be an inspiration and example to all who must travel life’s road!

Additional Notes

3:19אֲדֹנָי (“the Lord”): The translation given above (“my Lord”) follows several manuscripts of the LXX and the NJB. It involves no change of consonants of the MT and maintains the spirit of the Exodus recorded in Ex. 15:2.

If a copula is to be supplied between אֲדֹנָי and חֵיִֹלי, it is better to retain אֲדֹנָי as a case of apposition: “Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength” (cf. RSV). The translation suggested above has the advantage of harmonizing well with the fact that other expressions in the verse are also drawn from the ancient epic corpus, “Yahweh . . . is my strength” being indebted to Ps. 18:32 (HB 18:33) and the next two lines to Ps. 18:33 (HB 18:34). Further, though not formed with the same verbs, the notice of exuitant praise found in v. 18 reflects Ex. 15:3, and חַיִל (v. 19) is found in Ex. 15:4 (though probably with a different meaning). Habakkuk’s closing note of praise is thus filled with imagery drawn from the epic songs of the Exodus event.

The use of the divine name יהוה here is probably in conscious imitation of its stanza-initial position in the two ancient poems (vv. 3, 8). In addition, it serves as a stitch-word to the previous subunit (vv. 16-18) and as a bookending device with the opening portion of the chapter (v. 2).

†The usual sense of “on the heights” seems to be demanded for בָּמוֹתַי rather than seeing here the frequently suggested (e.g., Albright, Hiebert) association with Ugaritic bmt (“back”—i.e., of the vanquished foe). The form occurs elsewhere in the ancient poetry of Israel {1.264}(Ps. 18:33 [HB 18:34] = 2 Sam. 22:34, where it occurs with עָמַד [“stand”]); it is thus doubtless a frozen form based on an old genitive case.

The sentiment of the line is found in two other pieces of ancient Hebrew poetry (where, however, the Ugaritic meaning may be suitable): Deut. 32:13 and Deut. 33:13 (where it occurs, as here, with the verb דָּרַךְ). Apparently the use of דָּרַךְ/ עָמַד with בָּמוֹת was part of an ancient stock phraseology for praising God for His victorious intervention on behalf of His people, even though the precise meaning of the phrase depended on the context. יַדְרִכֵנִי thus not only has important literary associations but also serves as a stitch-word to the previous subsection and provides a suitable climax to the prophet’s spiritual renewal.

†The closing subscription is one of several musical notations in chap. 3 (vv. 1, 3, 9, 13) that give instructions for the possible use of Habakkuk’s prayer psalm in public worship. While the term שִׁגְיֹנוֹת in the heading (3:1) appears to be an indication of the musical setting and the repeated selah (vv. 3, 9, 13) a note relative to a musical interlude, these final instructions are intended for the director of music (cf. 1 Chron. 15:21-22; 2 Chron. 34:12). Craigie is of the opinion that all three terms indicate that such pieces of music were part of the standard repertoire available for congregational worship.630

The musical experience of ancient Israel was rich and varied. Therefore, the Temple worship was highly organized (cf. 1 Chron. 6:31-48; 15:21-22; 16:41-42; 23:5; 25:1-3; etc.). Selected instruments, especially the harp and the lyre, were a prominent part of such music (1 Chron. 15:21; 25:1; Pss. 92:3; 150:3-4).631 Thus it is not surprising that the term for “stringed instruments” found here also appears in the heading of several psalms (Pss. 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76)632 and is found as a singular noun in Ps. 77:6 (HB 77:7), which also contains early epic material. Keil suggests that the personal pronoun on the term here means that Habakkuk

himself will accompany it with his own playing, from which it has been justly inferred that he was qualified, according to the arrangements of the Israelitish worship, to take part in the public performance of such pieces of music as were suited for public worship, and therefore belonged to the Levites who were entrusted with the conduct of the musical performance of the temple.633{1.265}

Habakkuk’s joyous spiritual triumph evidenced in his proclamation יהוה of as Master of his life is reminiscent of Charles Wesley’s well-known hymn:

Rejoice, the Lord is King:

Your Lord and King adore!

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing

And triumph evermore:

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!634

Excursus on Habakkuk 3

As noted in the Introduction to Habakkuk, the third chapter exhibits striking differences from the preceding two.635 These factors, coupled with the presence of several musical notations (vv. 1, 3, 9, 13, 19), make clear that with chap. 3 one is dealing with material that is unique and constitutes a self-contained pericope. This observation may account for its exclusion from 1QpHab.

From a literary perspective it is likewise obvious that chap. 3 has some distinct internal differences. Thus vv. 2, 16-19 are composed in the first person and recount the prophet’s own experiences and feelings, whereas vv. 3-15 are written in the third and second persons and contain epic themes drawn from the era of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and settlement in the land of Canaan. Several authors have noted that all this points to a deliberate literary methodology, vv. 2, 16-19 forming an enclosing framework for the psalmic material that intervenes. Thus Hiebert points out that “v 2 and vv 16-19 provide a literary framework for the theophany in vv 3-15” that “is itself composed of two distinct units, vv 3-7 and 8-15.”636{1.268}

That such is the case can be seen from several supporting data: (1) The ideas of hearing and fearing found in v. 2 are echoed in v. 16. (2) The root רגז (“tremble”) plays a prominent part in vv. 2 and 16. (3) The divine name Yahweh is used in the opening and closing sections of the chapter and is strategically placed so as to bookend the whole composition (vv. 2, 18-19). (4) The twin themes of God’s awesome power and His boundless grace, though punctuating the entire chapter, are particularly featured in the framework portions.637 All these elements are woven together by Habakkuk to demonstrate his initial concern (reflected in his opening petition, v. 2) and his satisfaction due to his perception of the character and work of God (vv. 3-15), given in his concluding testimony of praise (vv. 16-19). The material portrayed in the victory ode that forms the central section of the chapter (vv. 3-15) is suited to meet Habakkuk’s own need so that, while the chapter has distinguishable units, it nonetheless demonstrates a unity of perspective.

The psalm of vv. 3-15, although it picks up themes that are present in v. 2 and carries them through to the concluding section of vv. 16-19,638 is nevertheless distinct from those enclosing units. Particularly notable are (1) the difference in divine names, moving from Yahweh (v. 2) to Eloah and Holy One (v. 3), (2) the replacing of first-person verbs with largely third-person narrative structure, and (3) the shift of viewpoint from the prophet’s fear generated by his perception of God’s activity (v. 2) to a consideration of God Himself in His appearance (vv. 3-4), in His actions (vv. 5-7, 8-10a, 15), and in their effect (vv. 10b-11) in delivering God’s people from their enemies (vv. 12-15).

Most distinctive of all, however, is that, while vv. 2, 16-19 contain themes and phrases that may be indebted to the material contained in vv. 3-15, they are written in a poetic style largely representative of the classical language and themes of the Psalter and prophets (cf. v. 2 with Pss. 44:1 [HB 44:2]; 85:4-7 [HB 85:5-8]; 102:12-13; Isa. 54:8; v. 16 with Ps. 37:7; v. 17 with Jer. 5:17; Joel 1:10- 12; Amos 4:9; vv. 18-19 with Pss. 27:1; 46:1-5 [HB 46:2-6]; 97:12). On the other hand, vv. 3-15 reflect Israel’s earliest poetry (cf. v. 3 with Judg. 5:4; Ps. 68:7 [HB 68:8]; v. 5 with Deut. 33:2-3; vv. 10- 11 with Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 [HB 18:8-16]; 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:16-19 [HB 77:17-20]; 144:5-6; vv. {1.269}12-15 with Ex. 15:6-10, 14-18).639 In addition, as noted in the introduction under Literary Context, this section is filled with archaic grammatical elements, poetic devices, and themes such as that of the chariot warrior baring his bow.640

Though vv. 3-15 belong as a whole to a common early linguistic and literary milieu, they show some internal distinctions. Two compositions are present, each of which makes its own contribution to the corpus of the Exodus epic. Habakkuk 3:3-7 describes God’s leading of His heavenly and earthly hosts from the south in an awe-inspiring theophany. Habakkuk 3:8-15 constitutes a victory song commemorating the conquest itself and points to the basis of that success in the Exodus event, particularly in the victory at the Red Sea.

Moreover, each poem is marked by literary features that give it its own distinctive integrity. Thus, both are bounded by bookending devices forming an inclusio, vv. 3-7 with geographical names that appear in the poem’s opening and closing verses, and vv. 8-15 with the motifs of sea, water, and horses (vv. 8, 15). Each poem has its own internal structure. The first makes frequent use of the waw coordinator to bind its individual cola and words together and employs tricola to end its stanzas (vv. 3-4, 5-7). The second makes no use of the waw coordinator at all but connects its stanzas via variation in word order (v. 12) and the employment of stanza-beginning (v. 8) or-ending (v. 11) tricola.

Additional prominent features of the first poem include the use of stitching themes and words to unite its two subunits (vv. 3-4, 5-7) such as coming/going (vv. 3, 5) and earth (vv. 3, 6), and the heaping up of s sounds (11 instances) for dramatic effect. Further characteristics of the second poem include the continued use of s sounds for effect (26 cases), a progression in theme from that of the divine warrior’s preparations (vv. 8-9) and actions in the natural world (vv. 10-11) to His activities in delivering His people (vv. 12-15), the unique placement of v. 15 so as to combine the themes of deliverance and power while forming an inclusio with the opening tricolon of the poem (v. 8), and the presence of key words and themes that stitch its two stanzas together: anger (vv. 8, 12) and salvation (vv. 9, 11, 13), earth (vv. 10, 12) and water (vv. 8, 10, 15), horses (vv. 8, 10) and weapons (vv. 9, 14), {1.270}and the repetition of verbs of going out or proceeding (vv. 11, 12, 13, 14).

Habakkuk’s psalm of 3:3-15, then, is a weaving together of two poems remarkably well suited for each other. They contain complementary features, such as common items of alliteration and assonance (e.g., the s sound) and several key themes and words such as God’s actions in the natural world (vv. 4-6, 8-11, 15), stress on the brilliance of God’s glory (vv. 4, 11), use of cosmic weaponry (vv. 5, 9, 14), emphasis on earth and nations (vv. 6, 10, 12), and reference to trembling (vv. 6, 7, 10) and going out or proceeding (vv. 3, 11-14). Hiebert points out that the second poem is thus the “logical sequel to the description of his [God’s] departure from his sanctuary flanked by his military attendants” in the first poem.641 He also calls attention syntactically to the consistent employment of alternating suffix- and prefix-conjugation verbs in both poems.642

It is clear, then, that Habakkuk 3 is composed of four sections, the double-psalmed central portions of which are distinctive and drawn from a corpus of much older literature.643 From a literary standpoint the two poetic compositions found in vv. 3-15 belong to the genre of epic literature and rehearse the dramatic happenings that made up the Exodus. Much as in the other literary traditions in the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, the Hebrew people had an epic cycle, the remnants of which can be found in those poems that sing of the era and events of Israel’s Exodus. All of these poetic pieces contain not only common themes but also the same grammatical and literary features. To Hab. 33-15 may be added Ex. 15:1-18; Deut. 33:1-3; Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 (HB 18:8-16); 68:7-8 (HB 68:8-9); 77:16-19 (HB 77:17-20); 144:5-6. Two of these passages, Hab. 3:3-15 and Ex. 15:1-18, contain extended portrayals of the Exodus experience.

Like Habakkuk’s psalm, Ex. 15:1-18 gives a detailed discussion of the era of the Exodus, first singing of the Exodus itself and of Yahweh’s victory at the Red Sea (vv. 1-10) and then praising the Lord for His divine leading, first to Mount Sinai (vv. 11-13) and then proleptically from Sinai to the Promised Land (vv. 14-18).{1.271}

The two poems that compose Hab. 3:3-15 add considerable information to this event and in so doing employ epic themes and style.644 Thus there is the central focus on a hero: God Himself. Moreover, in the first poem (vv. 3-7) the poet relates the account of an epic journey, God’s leading of His people from the southland toward Canaan. He calls attention to God’s command of nature in theophany (vv. 3-4), His special companions (v. 5), His earthshaking power (v. 6), and the effect of all this on the inhabitants of the land (v. 7).

The second poem (vv. 8-15) transcends the bounds of the movement from Egypt to the Jordan (cf. Ps. 114:3-5), the phraseology being best understood as including God’s miraculous acts in the conquest period as well. God’s victories at the end of the Exodus account are rehearsed first (vv. 8-11), possibly reflecting such deeds as the triumph at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) and at the Jordan (Josh. 3-4), as well as the victories at the Wadi Kishon (Judg. 4-5) and Gibeon (Josh. 10). The poet then directs his hearers’ attention to the victory that gave Israel its deliverance and eventual conquest of Canaan: the triumph in Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (vv. 12-15).

Habakkuk 3:8-15 is thus a victory psalm, a fact commensurate with the heroic tone of epic literature. As such it partakes of the same general themes that are found in other victory songs from the ancient Hebrew epic cycle. In his excellent study concerning Ex. 15:1-18 and Judges 5, A. J. Hauser isolates five key motifs that the early Hebrew victory songs have in common: (1) Yahweh as the divine hero who comes to Israel’s deliverance; (2) a description of Yahweh together with action-packed scenes of God’s victory; (3) the use of water imagery; (4) the mocking of the enemy; and (5) the defeat of the enemy described in terms of his fall.645 Some of these themes can be found in Hab. 3:3-7, and all five occur in Hab. 3:8-15: (1) vv. 8, 13; (2) vv. 8-15; (3) vv. 8-11, 15; (4) v. 14; (5) vv. 13b-14.

Granted the epic nature and origin of Hab. 3:3-15, can the purpose for Habakkuk’s incorporation of ancient poetic material into his composition be seen? Does the third chapter of his prophecy have a unity of perspective? The answer to both questions is affirmative. That there is unity in the chapter may be seen in (1) the mention in every stanza of God, the central figure of the chapter (vv. 2 [bis], 3, 8, 18, 19), and (2) the presence of key words such as רגז (vv. 2, 7, 16 [bis]) {1.272}and themes such as going/proceeding (vv. 3, 11-14, 16, 19), salvation/deliverance/mercy (vv. 2, 8, 13, 18), wrath/anger/fear (vv. 2, 6-7, 8, 12, 16), and the judgment of nations (vv. 6-7, 12-14, 16). Hiebert calls particular attention to the twin motifs “central to the poem: the hearing about the acts of God, and the response of great awe which this hearing evokes” and the prevalence of the “two characteristics of theophany, its gracious intent and its awful power to disrupt and destroy.”646

When one considers also the shape given to the chapter by the superscription, which proclaims the composition to be a te†pilla‚, a prayer of praise to God that can be set to music and utilized in worship (see introduction), the question of unity is settled. Indeed, all this confirms Habakkuk’s literary artistry in blending ancient epic material into his prayer psalm as a statement of exaltation to God in the midst of an opening cry and petition (v. 2) and closing affirmation of trust and praise (vv. 16-19).

It is evident, too, that the final unified composition was well suited to Habakkuk’s purposes and personal needs. Habakkuk had had his perplexities resolved in the revelation of God’s intentions for the nations and the divine admonition for silence. The consideration of God’s actions caused him to contemplate the nature of the God who had been Israel’s Redeemer all along. After Habakkuk pleads for mercy in the midst of wrath (v. 2) and reviews God’s past record (vv. 3-15), his reverential trust in God is renewed. Israel’s great Redeemer is his also. He will trust in such a one no matter what happens (vv. 16-19). He who had acted both in judgment and deliverance for Israel in the past can be counted on to do so once again, both for Israel and His prophet.

The same power at whose manifestation the entire cosmos (vv 6, 9-10), nature (v 17), the peoples (v 7), and the poet himself (vv 2, 16) tremble in awe discloses itself as merciful (v 2), as a source of joy and occasion for praise (v 18), and as deliverer of salvation to the cosmos (vv 13-15), to his people (v 13), and to the poet himself (v 19).647

Thus Habakkuk’s final prayer of praise to Israel’s Redeemer stands not only as a unified composition but also as the climax to the whole prophecy.

228 Jewish tradition (Seder Olam) associated Habakkuk with Manasseh’s reign, a position followed by many Jewish scholars, including David Kimchi. For helpful discussions of the background and setting of the book, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 922-36; Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. P. R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 417-23.

229 Details relative to the book’s compilation will be considered with the discussion of unity in the section dealing with literary context.

230 So G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962), p. 65. See also Menahem Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), p. 93. H. Hummel (The Word Becoming Flesh [St. Louis: Concordia, 1979], p. 345), however, suggests the Hellenistic party or the Seleucids.

231 For details as to the historical background of the seventh century B.C. See the discussion in the Introduction to Nahum and the exposition of Hab. 1:2-4.

232 See below under Literary Context.

233 For details, see the discussion in Harrison, Introduction, p. 931.

234 For a valuable discussion of the additions to Daniel, see Bruce M. Metzger, ed., The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, expanded ed. (New York: Oxford U., 1977), pp. 209-18.

235 Because of his persistent dialogue with God, Habakkuk was called “the wrestler” by Jerome, a view that Luther later shared.

236 For the text, see Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, 6th ed. (Stuttgart: Würt-tembergische Bibelanstalt, n.d.), 2:936-41. In the later Christian account found in The Lives of the Prophets, Habakkuk is said to have come from the tribe of Simeon.

237 Ralph L. Smith (Micah-Malachi, WBC [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984], p. 93) seems inclined to such a position: “One manuscript of Bel and the Dragon says that Habakkuk was the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi. This later tradition that Habakkuk was of the tribe of Levi, along with the fact that he is one of only three men in the OT to be called a prophet in the superscription of his book, and the fact that he is presented as a prophet in the musical chapter (3:1) of his book, suggests that he may have been a Levite and a professional or temple prophet.”

238 P. Humbert (Problèmes du livre d’Habacuc [Neuchatel: Secretariat de L’Universite, 1944]) works out the details of the book so as to show its origin among the cultic prophets of the Temple in seventh century B.C. Jerusalem. J. Lindblom (Prophecy in Ancient Israel [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1962], p. 254) asserts that Habakkuk “was certainly a cultic prophet at the temple in Jerusalem.”

239 Even demonstrating that Habakkuk was a Levite and connected with the Temple worship at Jerusalem would not validate the current opinion of critical scholarship that finds the remnants of cultic ritual and liturgy almost ubiquitously in connection with OT prophecy. Hummel (The Word, p. 164) cautions: “In general, it is agreed on all sides today that in this respect the form critics greatly overstated their case, but they did establish that cult and prophecy often operated in tandem.... If the normative Israelite cult was Mosaic, and if prophecy was reformatory, the prophets could scarcely have been at total loggerheads with priestdom.... Subsequent research has confirmed that the prophets certainly speak in the temple in cultic contexts even if they held no office from the cult with which most of their audience was perfectly familiar.”

240 Walter E. Rast (“Justification by Faith,” Cur TM 10 [1983]: 169-75) calls attention to Habakkuk’s employment of the traditional forms of lament (1:24, 12-17) followed by response (1:5-11; 2:14) and suggests that Habakkuk’s technique may well anticipate that of the author of 1QpHab

241 See the chart that accompanies the exposition of Hab. 2:6-8.

242 For the concept of stitch-wording, see Richard D. Patterson, “Of Bookends, Hinges, and Hooks: Literary Clues to the Arrangement of Jeremiah’s Prophecies,” WTJ 51 (1989): 117-18.

243 W. F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Dedicated to T. H. Robinson, ed. H. H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1950), p. 10. Albright also suggests the presence of an old energic form with emphatic ל in Hab. 3:6-7: לתחתאו , “(eternal orbits) were shattered.” E. Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 114-15, follows the lead of K. Elliger in translating the troublesome crux as the Ugaritic word for destruction preceded by the preposition ל .

244 For enclitic -m, see M. Pope, “Ugaritic Enclitic -m,” JCS 5 (1951): 123-28; H. D. Hummel, “Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew,” JBL 76 (1957): 85-106; M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:408-9.

245 For the bearing of Ugaritic research upon biblical studies, see P. C. Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 67-90, and his extensive bibliography on pp. 107-9.

246 Theodore Hiebert (God of My Victory [Atlanta: Scholars, 1986], p. 26) also remarks that “The image of the chariot warrior baring his bow corresponds with the practice of warfare in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages as it has been reconstructed by historians and archaeologists. The bow by this time had become the principal weapon of the chariot warrior, and chariots were outfitted with bow cases and quivers to carry weapons not in use. The description of the divine warrior in Hab. 3:8-9 mounting his chariot, baring his bow (drawing it from the bow case), and firing the arrows drawn from the quiver ... is what one would expect from an Israelite poet drawing images from the concrete world of human conflict with which the poet was familiar.” See further W. F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” pp. 8-9; W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 1-52, 183-93; U. Cassuto, “Chapter III of Habakkuk and the Ras Shamra Texts,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 2:3-15, 16-59, 69-109; S. Rummel, “Narrative Structures in the Ugaritic Texts,” RSP 3:233-84; F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1973), pp. 91-194.

247 See the Excursus on Habakkuk 3.

248 The psalm in Hab. 3:3-15 thus contains a sketch of what may have constituted an early Hebrew epic commemorating God’s mighty prowess in delivering His people from Egypt and bringing them into the land of promise. The full epic, though preserved in bits and pieces in various portions of the OT, has not been inscripturated. See further Richard D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” GTJ 8 (1987): 163-94. The author wishes to thank the editors of the Grace Theological Journal for their permission to quote freely from that article, which has been utilized extensively for the present discussion as well as for relevant points in the exposition of Hab. 3:3-15 and the Excursus on Habakkuk 3.

249 M. P. Nilsson (The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology [New York: Norton, 1932], p. 19) points out that “in the epical language of all peoples occurs a store of stock expressions, constantly recurring phrases, half and whole verses and even verse complexes; and repetitions are characteristic of the epic style.”

250 For details, see Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” pp. 2, 9. See also W. S. Prinsloo, “Die boodskap van die boek Habakuk,” Nederduits Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 20 (1979): 146-51, who, however, relates the message of the book to a denunciation of the Assyrians.

251 Eissfeldt, Introduction, p. 420.

252 For details, see ibid., pp. 417-19. For a classic treatment of the liberal tradition, see W. Hayes Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1912), pp. 3-6.

253 R. L. Smith (Micah-Malachi, p. 94) points out that such older critics as A. B. Davidson and S. R. Driver returned to this view. He observes that this position is especially attractive to those who view Habakkuk as a cultic prophet.

254 See W. H. Brownlee, The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary from Qumran, JBL Monograph XI (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1959), p. 92.

255 Eissfeldt, Introduction, p. 421. Millar Burrows (Burrows on the Dead Sea Scrolls [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], 1:321-22) observes: “Many scholars have long believed that the third chapter was not a part of the original book of Habakkuk. Its absence from the scroll is consistent with this theory but does not prove it. It does not even prove that the third chapter was unknown to the Judean covenanters. Being a psalm, it does not lend itself to such use as is made of the other chapters. It is even possible that the commentary was never finished.” See also Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 264.

256 Carl E. Armerding, “Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985),7:522.

257 P. C. Craigie, The Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1986), p. 196. See also Harrison, Introduction, p. 93.

258 In this regard, see the helpful comments of C. H. Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 183: “Habakkuk was bold enough to broach the subject of divine justice. Whether or not he was acquainted with Job, he nevertheless took the issue that Job had raised and probed on a personal level and dealt with it on an international plane. There is a distinct difference, however. Job defended his innocence and moral integrity, whereas Habakkuk admitted the sins of Judah.”

259 The need for a balanced perspective with regard to the place of government is ably defended by Robert Culver, Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 156-58.

260 Hummel, The Word, p. 347.

261 For helpful insight into the discussion of warfare, see P. C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).

262 See in this regard the helpful remarks of W. S. LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, and F. W. Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 454: “Habakkuk neither used his questions to shield himself from moral responsibilities nor shunned God’s claims upon his life.... God’s revelation of himself laid [to rest] the ghost of the prophet’s doubts and gave birth to a finer faith; the redeeming God had used his questions as a means of grace to draw Habakkuk closer to himself.”

263 See Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 10.

264 Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, p. 146. Brownlee (The Text of Habakkuk, pp. 109-12) lists nineteen of these as major variants.

265 Harrison, Introduction, p. 938.

266 Although the list of authors who have worked on this portion of Scripture is filled with the names of many prestigious scholars, a critical consensus as to its reading and interpretation is far from being reached. The difficulty of the text has defied the efforts of exegetes of all theological persuasions.

267 While Würthwein (Text of the Old Testament, p. 15) suggests a first-century date for the standardization of the MT, F. M. Cross (“The Text Behind the Text of the Hebrew Bible,” Bible Review 1 [1985]: 12-25) is not so sure. The second-century OT Hebrew manuscripts found at Wadi Murabba’at, however, are distinctly MT. See further F. F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 64-66.

268 Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, pp. 17, 113-14. F. F. Bruce (Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959], p. 12) cautions that the author of 1QpHab may not have been so reliable in his handling of the text: “Along with this atomizing exegesis there goes at times an interesting treatment of textual variants. Where one reading suits the commentator’s purpose better than another, he will use it, although he may show in the course of his comment that he is aware of an alternative reading. He has been suspected of deliberately altering the text here and there in order to make the application more pointed, but the suspicion does not amount to proof.”

269 R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, p. 96.

270 See Bullock, Prophetic Books, pp. 34-36; M. F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951), pp. 53-78; R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), pp. 180-95.

271 Armerding, Habakkuk, 7:496. Harrison (Introduction, p. 271) includes the words of the pronouncement of the second century B.C. baraitha contained in the Talmudic tractate Baba Bathra: “The order of the prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve (Minor Prophets).” For full discussion of the early canonicity of all of the prophets, see Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 138-80.

272 See, e.g., A Jepsen, “ חָזָה,”TDOT 4:283-84.

273 For the prophet’s more active role in seeing the divinely revealed vision, see R. D. Culver, “ חָזָה,” TWOT 1:274-75; G. Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), pp. 215-18; C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:9; M. F. Unger, “Vision,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed. Everett F. Harrison (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), p. 545. The position taken here recognizes the fact that in time the prophet’s use of חָזָה came to mean something like “received.”

Isaiah’s prophecy, for example, contains a great deal more than visionary material, yet the whole is termed “that which he saw” (Isa. 1:1). Likewise, the noun חִזָּיוֹן (“vision”) appears to mean not just “things seen” but “revelation,” however it was received (cf. 2 Sam. 7:17). Accordingly the translation “saw” given here is to be understood in a neutral sense. Nevertheless, the choice of this root to describe the prophet’s role in the process of divine revelation may preserve the fact that at times seeing played a major role (cf. Isa. 6:1; see also the exposition of Nah. 3:2).

274 See further R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:277-80.

275 See also my remarks in the Introduction to Habakkuk in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, ed. W. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), pp.666-67.

276 R. D. Culver, Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 93-94.

277 In a dramatic turn God is at times represented as calling out to people (Isa. 66:4), sometimes to those who only turn away from Him. Tragically, 11 times in the book of Jeremiah it is reported that God earnestly sought to meet with His disobedient people only to find that they did not keep their appointed time of communion.

278 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:55.

279 Victor Hamilton, “ שָׁוַע,” TWOT 2:911-12.

280 See BDB, p. 1002.

281 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 318.

282 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:57.

283 Herbert Marks, “The Twelve Prophets,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1987), p. 219.

284 J. G. Harris, “The Laments of Habakkuk’s Prophecy,” EvQ 45 (1973): 24-25.

285 W. Leslau, Ethiopic and South Arabic Contributions to the Hebrew Lexicon, University of California Publications on Semitic Philology XX (Los Angeles: U. of California, 1958), p. 18.

286 For the employment of this adjective in Judg. 5:6 where it is used of “circuitous routes,” see R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 127, 131.

287 For the use of this adjective in earlier Canaanite literature (= Ugaritic àqltn), see C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1965), no. 67: 1:2. See also John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 490-91; E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 2:233-35.

288 See W. S. LaSor, “Merodach-Baladan,” ISBE 3:325-26.

289 See further the Introduction to Nahum; see also Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker 1990), p. 55.

290 See further A. Leo Oppenheim, “Chaldeans,” IDB 1:549-50; R. D. Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 1:319-66; H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), pp. 140-53.

291 Even E. B. Pusey (The Minor Prophets [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953], 2:165-69) finds it difficult to choose between them.

292 God’s reply to Habakkuk’s charge is reminiscent of the words attributed to Aeschylus (Fr. Incert., 4):

Ορᾷ δίκη σ᾿ ἄναυδος οὐχ ὁρωμένη

῞Εύδοντι καὶ στείχοντι χαὶ καθημένῳ,

῾Εξῆς δ᾿ ὀπάζει δόχμιον, ἄλλου᾿ ὕστερον.

Οὐδ᾿ ἐγκαλύπτει νὺξ κακῶς εἰργασμένα·

῞Οτι δ᾿ἂν ποιῇς, νόμιζ᾿ ὁρᾷν δεινὸν τινα.

Justice, silent and unseen, sees you

While you sleep, while you go on your way, and while you sit down,

She stays next to you, either beside or else behind you.

Night cannot conceal the evil things that have been done;

Whatever you do, consider that there is One to be feared who sees it!

293 D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), pp. 61, 67. The composition and campaigning efficiency of the Assyrian army have often been described; see, e.g., H. W. F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984), pp. 250-68. Long years of contact with the Assyrians must have served the Chaldeans well in terms of military knowledge. L. Delaporte (Mesopotamia, trans. V. Gordon Childe [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970], pp. 73-74) is doubtless correct in saying that “the Babylonian army must have been organized very like the Assyrian army in the last days of the Sargonids’ empire.”

294 See the additional note on Zeph. 3:3.

295 The Chaldeans’ guilt in abusing their divine mission is reminiscent of Jehu’s self-serving accomplishment of God’s will (2 Kings 9-10), a mission duly condemned by Hosea (Hos. 1:4). Keil (Minor Prophets, 1:41) appropriately observes: “In itself, i.e. regarded as the fulfilment of the divine command, the extermination of the family of Ahab was an act by which Jehu could not render himself criminal. But even things desired or commanded by God may become crimes in the case of the performer of them, when he is not simply carrying out the Lord’s will as the servant of God but suffers himself to be actuated by evil and selfish motives, that is to say, when he abuses the divine command, and makes it the mere cloak for the lusts of his own evil heart.”

296 For details concerning the use of the subject pronoun with a participle, see A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1901), par. 100a; GKC par. 106s.

297 See R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2d ed. (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1976), par. 446, 515.

298 For asseverative kaph, see R. Gordis, “The Asseverative Kaph in Ugaritic and Hebrew,” JAOS 63 (1943): 176-78; Williams, Syntax, par. 261,449; M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:402-6.

299 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), p. 100. For various suggestions as to the alleviation of the difficulty, see W. H. Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), pp. 9-11. For further discussion, see J. R. Blue, “Habakkuk,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1985), 1:1510.

300 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 9.

301 See, e.g., the discussions in A. R. Hulst, Old Testament Translation Problems (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), pp. 248-49; Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:352-53.

302 The translation given here is thus similar to that of the note in the Traduction Oecumenique de la Bible (Edition integrale, Ancien Testament, Paris, 1975), “la direction de leur face vers l’avant...”

303 The Babylonian kings often boasted of the taking of captives and great booty; see the several texts collected by Wiseman, Chaldaean Kings, pp. 51-57.

304 ANET, p. 38.

305 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 11.

306 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:59.

307 This explicative particle is related to the Arabic d, Epigraphic South Arabic d/ dt, Ugaritic, Aramaic/Syriac d, Old Aramaic, Phoenician z(u/i), and Geez za. The case for its use in Hebrew is well established, as demonstrated by W. L. Moran, “The Hebrew Language in Its Northwest Semitic Background,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G. E. Wright (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956), p. 69. For its existence in the ancient Hebrew poetry of the OT, see E. LipinÃski, “Judges 5, 4-5 et Psaume 68, 8-11,” Bib 55 (1974): 174-75; Patterson, “Song of Deborah,” pp. 127, 131. See further Williams, Syntax, par. 129, 536; S. Moscati et al., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1964), pp. 113-14.

308 Thomas McComiskey, The Covenants of Promise (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), p. 57.

309 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:64.

310 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 325.

311 This is one of 18 passages in the Tiqqune sopherim alleged to be scribal emendations designed to protect God’s name and character. Whereas some view these “emendations” as scribal corrections of the text (e.g., R. Smith; cf. NJB, p. 156t), others view them as expressions of what the scriptural author originally intended to write but did not (e.g., Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:64). See further E. Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 15-19.

312 Dahood, Psalms, 3:324. See also M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 3:18-19.

313 A. J. O. van der Wal, “ Lo„ Na„mu„t in Habakkuk I 12:A Suggestion,” VT 38 (1988): 480-82.

314 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 324. In a critical note Laetsch cites with approval the words of Martin Luther: “We may regard this sentence as a question. Is it not true, Lord, that Thou art my God of old, my Holy One, so that we shall not die, but that Thou wilt use him to punish and correct us? He speaks to God in the form of questions” (p. 323).

315 Ibid.; see also the observations of Keil and Delitzsch in Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:65-66.

316 Edwin Yamauchi, “Babylon,” in Major Cities of the Biblical World, ed. R. K. Harrison (Nashville: Nelson, 1985), p. 36; Gerald Larue, Babylon and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 51. Larue’s description of the splendor of the city is particularly good (pp. 51-65). For an account of the exploration and excavation of ancient Babylon, see A. Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament, trans. B. E. Hooke (New York: Philosophical Library, 1958), pp. 15-67.

317 D. J. Wiseman, “Babylon,” ISBE 1:388-89.

318 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:68-69

319 For the persistence of the qal passive in biblical Hebrew see R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” in Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1970), pp. 43-50. Williams notes an analogous case with a middle weak verb occurring in Gen. 50:20 where the MT reads וַיִּישֶׂם (“he was placed”) whereas the Samaritan Pentateuch renders the form as a passive ( ויושם).

320 For the use of שׁוּב in a reply to an answer, see Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:300-301.

321 C. Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:509.

322 For extended discussions of the biblical doctrine of God’s holiness, see A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson, 1907), pp. 268-75; Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (reprint, Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977), pp. 446-532.

323 See further A. S. van der Woude, “ צור,” THAT 2:538-43; J. E. Hartley, צוּר,”TWOT 2:762; R. D. Patterson, “ סֵלַע,” TWOT 2:627.

324 I have demonstrated the use of asyndetic structure for dramatic effect as a feature of Akkadian literary composition also; see R. D. Patterson, Old Babylonian Parataxis (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1971), pp. 165-70.

325 The case for identifying the wicked with the Chaldeans here is defended by Marshall Johnson (“The Paralysis of Torah in Habakkuk,” VT 35 [1985]: 257-66), who theorizes that the Chaldean oppression of Judah occasioned a severe questioning of God by His prophet. Habakkuk had expected the blessing of God for the keeping of תּוֹרָה and מִשְׁפָּט in association with the Josianic reforms but instead saw only great evil and, rather than relief, the threat of increased Chaldean violence.

For discussion of these words for evil, see M. A. Klopfenstein, “ בגד,”THAT 1:261-63; S. Erlandsson, “ בָּגַד,” TDOT 1:470-72; G. Herbert Livingston, “ רָעַע,” TWOT 2:854-56; G. Herbert Livingston, “ רָשַׁע,” TWOT 2:863-64; Robert Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 78-79, 80, 81-82. M. J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], 2:564-75) presents a lively and informative discussion concerning various scriptural terms for sin.

326 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:507.

327 See the excellent discussion in R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), pp. 235-37.

328 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:66.

329 A. van Seims, “Fishing,” ISBE 2:309-11.

330 See further Fred Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody, 1953), pp. 215-16. M. Dahood (“The Minor Prophets and Ebla,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth, ed. Carol L. Meyers and M. O’Connor [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1983], p. 60) suggests on the basis of recent finds at Ebla that ancient fishermen worshiped a god known as Divine Net.

331 See C. Westermann, “ גיל,” THAT 1:415-18; J. Bergman, H. Ringgren, C. Barth, “ גיל,” TDOT 2:469-75; E. Ruprecht, “ שׂמח,” THAT 2:829-35; B. Waltke, “ שָׂמַח,” TWOT 2:879.

332 For the occurrence of this set pair in the Keret epic, see Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, no. 125: 14-15, 99. For a helpful bibliography, see Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:354.

333 See, e.g., T. R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1985), p. 193.

334 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:508.

335 K. J. Cathcart, “A New Proposal for Hab 1, 17,” Bib 65 (1984): 575-76.

336 For details see GKC par. 114o; 156g; Williams, Syntax, par. 198.

337 See similarly the translation of Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:65: “Shall he therefore empty his net and always strangle nations without sparing?” W. G. E. Watson (Classical Hebrew Poetry [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986], p.220), however, retains the MT but views * וְתָמִיד as an example of pivot-pattern parallelism closing the first poetic line climactically while setting the scene for the second (cf. NIV, NJB). Although attractive, such an understanding ignores the Masoretic accents, which place וְתָמִיד in the second line.

338 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:508.

339 Dahood, “Minor Prophets and Ebla,” p. 60.

340 BDB, p. 487.

341 For details, see W. H. Brownlee, “The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk,” JBL 82 (1963): 319-25.

342 The uncertainty as to the exact material is underscored by similar instructions in Isa. 30:8: “Write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll” (NIV). The phraseology of the text in Isaiah and the problem of the extent of the message is analogous to that in Hab. 2:2-3; for details, see John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 550-51.

343 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:511.

344 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976), p. 211.

345 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:92-93.

346 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:511.

347 J. M. Holt, “So He May Run Who Reads It,” JBL 83 (1964): 301.

348 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954). 2:70.

349 J. G. Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances,” HTR 73 (1980): 58-78; see also W. H. Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), p. 14 n.

350 M. Dahood, Psalms, AR (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 1:169.

351 For a good discussion of the manifold uses of the term, see J. P. Lewis, “ ,יָעַדTWOT 1:387-89; G. Sauer, “ ,יעדTHAT 1:742-46.

352 See Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:512; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 272-74; B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 347-48.

353 Nigel Turner points out that masculine pronouns can follow antecedents of other genders, so that a reference here to “vision” ( ὄραις) is not impossible; for details, see J. H. Moulton, W. F. Howard, and N. Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1976), 3:312. My colleague and Septuagintal scholar Brent Sandy advises me in a personal communication that “gender differences between pronouns and antecedents are common in Greek and rarely indicative of theological importance. Since ὄρασις is separated from the αὐτόν and ἐρχόμενος by several phrases including nouns in the masculine and neuter, all of which are partially synonymous with the ὄρασις, the author is most likely enlarging the antecedents of αὐτόν to include all of the above.”

354 See H. M. Shires, Finding the Old Testament in the New (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), pp. 24-26; J. W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1972), pp. 95-97. This is not to say that the writer to the Hebrews has misused the OT text, for God’s appointed time is centered in the Messiah whether or not the LXX is a clear messianic text. Thus Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:70-71) remarks: “This goal was the end . . . towards which it hastened, i.e. the ‘last time,’ . . . the Messianic times, in which the judgment would fall upon the power of the world.” Further, the contexts of Hebrews and Habakkuk are analogous. As Richard Milligan (Epistle to the Hebrews, vol. 9 of The New Testament Commentary [Cincinnati: Central Book Concern, 1879], pp. 293-94) observes, it appears “that our author finds in the prophecy of Habakkuk, concerning the overthrow of the Chaldean monarchy, language so very appropriate to his purpose that he here takes and applies it as his own; thereby showing that the two cases are very analogous . . . but as is usual in such cases of accommodation (see Rom. x. 6-8), he so modifies the language as to adapt it to the case in hand. The main lesson is, however, the same in both Hebrews and Habakkuk; viz.: that God would certainly come and execute his purposes at the appointed time: and that while the proud and self-reliant would of necessity perish under the righteous judgments of God, the just man’s faith, if it wavered not, would certainly support him under the severest trials.” Moreover, the author of Hebrews’ handling of the passage may not be unprecedented, for G. Lünemann (“Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Meyer’s Commentaries on the New Testament [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1882], p. 315) reports that the later Jewish theologians interpreted it as messianic.

355 See also R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), p. 105.

356 See D. Cohen, Dictionnaire des racines SeÃmitiques (Paris: Mouton, 1970), p. 15; CAD “A,” 1:170.

357 W. C. Kaiser, Jr. (Toward an Old Testament Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978], p. 81), lists Hab. 2:4 as one of nine passages in the OT that record some 25 principles of morality recognized by the Jewish community.

358 Justification for the translation given here and a full discussion of the data essential for the Exegesis and Exposition may be found in the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4 found at the end of this chapter.

359 For the possibility that the text originally contained the word “wicked,” see n. 14 in the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4.

360 For selfishness as the essential principle of sin, see A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson, 1907), p. 567.

361 See further D. J. Wiseman,” יָשַׁר,” TWOT 1:417-18; G. Liedke, “ ישׁר,” THAT 1:790-94. See also R. Richards, “What Is Right?” Bible Translator 27 (1976): 220-24.

362 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:74.

363 M. J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], 2:580) warns that sin has at its core a “failure to let God be God.”

364 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 332.

365 P. J. M. Southwell, “A Note on Hab 2:4-5,” JTS 19 (1968): 616-17.

366 So K. Budde, as cited by Ward, Habakkuk, p. 14 n.

367 E. B. Smick, “ חָיָה,” TWOT 1:280.

368 For details, see BDB, p. 65.

369 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 301. Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:74) points out that “in the present instance it adds a new and important feature to what is stated in ver. 4a.”

370 Thus Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:74-75) observes: “The application to the Chaldaean is evident from the context. The fact that the Babylonians were very much addicted to wine is attested by ancient writers.”

371 See, e.g., J. A. Emerton, “The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5,” JTS 28 (1977): 6-8.

372 M. T. Houtsma, “Habakuk II, vs. 4 en 5 verbeterd,” Theologisch Tijdschrift 19 (1885): 180-83.

373 A. S. van der Woude, “Habakkuk 2:4,” ZAW 82 (1970): 281-82.

374 Whereas Emerton declares that the χατοιόμενος constitutes an inner LXX corruption from an original χατοινωμένος, Brownlee decides for its originality here. See Emerton, “Textual Problems,” pp. 1, 9; Brownlee, “Placarded Revelation,” p. 324.

375 For the preference of the more difficult reading and the adoption of the reading that best explains the other(s), see E. Würthwein The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 116-19; C. E. Armerding, The Old Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 125-27.

376 See further R. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 52-54; H. Kosmala, “ גָּבַר,” TDOT 2:377-82.

377 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, p. 105. Among the many other suggestions of the expositors may be noted that of George Zemek, Jr. (“Interpretive Challenges Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b,” GTJ 1 [1980]: 62): “He will not be successful.”

378 See further Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1963), pp. 176-223; R. L. Harris, “ שְׁאוֹל,” TWOT 2:892-93; R. L. Harris, “The Meaning of the Word Sheol as shown by Parallels in Poetic Passages,” JETS 4 (1961): 129-35; W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, [n.d.]), 2:594-640; John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew—I Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 3:165-72.

379 For the employment of gender-matched parallelism, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 125.

380 See H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), pp. 10-25.

381 B. Waltke, “ נֶפֶשׁ,” TWOT 2:589.

382 In addition, if “wine” is to be retained in v. 5, it may anticipate the denunciation concerning drinking in vv. 15-16.

383 D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), pp. 69, 71; see further H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), pp. 134-53.

384 Instances of such exclamatory interruptions are not without scriptural precedent; see Judg. 5:21; Neh. 5:19; Joel 3:11 (HB 4:11).

385 G. A. Smith (The Book of the Twelve Prophets, rev. ed. [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1929], 2:146 n. 3) deems it an intrusion by a later editorial hand.

386 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:78-79; see also Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 335.

387 For details, see A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1948), pp. 34-58. See also Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 72-74, 85-89; G. Buchanan Gray, “The Foundation and Extension of the Persian Empire,” in CAH, 4:2-14.

388 A. Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), p. 121.

389 R. Ghirshman, Iran (Baltimore: Penguin, 1954), p. 132.

390 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:79.

391 R. Smith, Minor Prophets, pp. 110-11.

392 C. Eiselen, The Minor Prophets (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1907), p. 488.

393 See further W. McKane, Proverbs (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), pp. 22-33; A. S. Herbert, “The Parable ( ma„sŒa„l) in the Old Testament,” SIT 7 (1954): 180-96.

394 See H. Torczyner, “The Riddle in the Bible,” HUCA 1 (1924): 125-49.

395 Although some have suggested a derivation of מְלִיצָה from מָלַץ (“be slippery”), the more traditional identification with לוּץ / לִיץ (“scorn”) seems assured. The suggestion in the Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:357, to render the word “irony” or “enigmatic irony” (taking מְליצָה with חִידוֹת ), though interesting, may suggest too fixed a literary form.

396 See GKC, par. 147 n. c.

397 See CAD “E,” p. 20; AHW p. 184b. The LXX hazards a guess ad sensum for the entire line: “Make his yoke severely heavy.”

398 See J. E. Hartley, “Pledge,” ISBE, 3:886-87; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), pp. 171-72.

399 See Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:78; in this he is followed by Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:517 (cf. also Pesh., KJV).

400 The intention of the original author is nicely portrayed in the syntax here, which employs a suffix-conjugation verb after two previous prefix-conjugation verbs.

401 “The Grotefend Inscription of Nebuchadrezzar II,” trans. C. D. Gray, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature (New York: Appleton, 1901), p. 148.

402 For details on ancient Babylon, see E. Yamauchi, “Babylon,” in Major Cities of the Biblical World, ed. R. K. Harrison (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), pp. 36-47; D. J. Wiseman, “Babylon,” ISBE, 1:386-89.

403 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:84.

404 H. Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), p. 285.

405 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 336.

406 See the additional note concerning נֶפֶשׁ at Hab. 2:5.

407 “East India House Inscription of Nebuchadrezzar II,” trans. C. D. Gray, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 141-42.

408 The Hebrew root עול has been suggested as an alternative reading for the troublesome עֻפְּלָה of Hab. 2:4; see the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4.

409 See the “Inscription of Nabopolassar,” trans. P. Bruce, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 131-33.

410 See the several inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar II in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 134-57; see also R. W. Rogers, ed., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, 2d ed. (New York: Abingdon, 1926), pp. 363-64, 368-69.

411 “The Winckler Inscription of Nebuchadrezzar II,” trans. C. D. Gray, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, p. 146. The Neo-Babylonian kings continued to be interested in building projects, particularly in temples. For several reports concerning such enterprises, see “The Stele of Nabonidus,” trans. R. F. Harper, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 158-63; see also Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels, pp. 378-79.

412 Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels, p. 363.

413 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 337.

414 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:98.

415 Erickson, Christian Theology, 1:352; elsewhere Erickson says, “As the highest value in the universe, the source from which all else derives, God must choose his own glory ahead of all else. As the only infinite being, this is what he must do. To put something else in the primary place would in effect be a case of idolatry” (p. 288).

416 Erickson, Christian Theology, 1:300.

417 Girdlestone, Synonyms, p. 79.

418 G. H. Livingston, “ ,עוּלTWOT 2:652-54.

419 See further the exposition of Nah. 2:13 and the additional note on 1 Kings 18:15 in R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “ 1, 2 Kings,” in EBC, 4:142-43.

420 See further R. L. Harris’s note to G. van Groningen, “ גוה,” TWOT 1:153.

421 See also Dahood, Psalms, 3:346. For chiasmus functioning as closure to a stanza, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 205.

422 See my remarks in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:265-66. For helpful discussions of the glory of the Lord, see G. Kittel, “ δόξα,” TDNT 2:233-37; S. Aalen, “Glory, Honour,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 2:44-48.

423 H. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1973), p. 113.

424 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:518.

425 See A. Heidel, Gilgamesh Epic, pp. 6-7.

426 See AR, 2:161-62.

427 See Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 141-42.

428 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:98.

429 See further my comments and the note on 2 Kings 10:28-32 in “1, 2 Kings,” in EBC, 4:212, 215, and the extensive discussion of J. G. Botterweck, “ בְּהֵמָה,” TDOT 2:6-12.

430 All three views have been followed in modern foreign language translations, Luther’s Die Heilige Schrift following (1), the Italian La Sacra Bibblia (2), and the French La Sainte Bible (3). Among the ancient versions the Vg renders the MT as fel, which can be translated as “anger” or “venom,” whereas the LXX and Pesh. go their own way or translate ad sensum. The Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:359, puts forward the suggestion, “Your wine which inflames.”

431 See Würthewein, Text of the Old Testament, p. 116.

432 See the additional note on Nah. 2:13.

433 W. Leslau, Ethiopic and South Arabic Contributions to the Hebrew Lexicon, U. of California Publications on Semitic Philology XX (Los Angeles: U. of California, 1958), p. 37. KB-3 suggests that the Ethiopic word may point to yet a third root with this spelling.

434 Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:87) emphatically denies such a meaning for סָפַח, and KB-3 does not list one. BDB postulates it as a proposed root for several nouns but does not relate Hab. 2:15 to it.

435 This solution is adopted by R. Smith, Habakkuk, p. 109.

436 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:519 n.

437 Ibid.

438 For the concatenation of cup, wrath, and drunkenness (staggering/reeling), see Isa. 51:17-23.

439 See GKC, par. 105m.

440 See Dahood, Psalms, 3:430-31.

441 For details, see A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1901), par. 87.

442 For similar instances of this syntactical feature, see Dahood, Psalms, 3:432-33.

443 See M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 3:143-44. The noun קִיקָלוֹן apparently arises from progressive assimilation of consonant to vowel: קִיקָלוֹן < קִלְקָלוֹן" < קָלַל; see KB-3, p. 1027. Similar cases of nouns derived from the pilpel stem of this root are attested in postbiblical Hebrew; see M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950), 2:1382-83. For discussions of this root and its derivatives, see C. A. Keller, “ קלל,” THAT 2:641-47; L. J. Coppes, “ קָלַלTWOT 2:800-801. For the use of phonetic assimilation in the Semitic languages, see S. Mosacati, ed., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964), pp. 56-58.

444 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 339; see also Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:360-61.

445 See the helpful observations of P. Gilchrist, “ ,ימןTWOT 1:382-83.

446 For the existence of the energic verbal form in Northwest Semitic, see C. Gordon, UT, 1:72-73; W. L. Moran, A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1967), pp. 43-49. For the utilization of the energic in Hebrew, see F. M. Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1950), p. 51; D. R. Meyer, Hebrä ische Grammatik (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1969), 2:100-101.

447 See the note on Joel 1:18 in Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, 7:244.

448 Habakkuk’s method of closure here is both climactic and carefully structured. For details, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, pp. 62-65.

449 See H. Preuss, “ אֱלִילTDOT 1:285-87.

450 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:99.

451 For the use of the hiphil to express inward transitivity, see GKC, par. 53d-f.

452 See the helpful classification of the various words for idol in the editorial note by R. L. Harris in E. S. Kalland, “ גָּלַל,” TWOT 1:163-64.

453 See the additional note concerning פֶּסֶל and מַסֵּכָה at Nah. 1:14.

454 Preuss, “ אֱלִיל,” TDOT 1:285.

455 G. Vermes (The Dead Sea Scrolls in English [Baltimore: Penguin, 1962], p. 240) translates the phrase in question as “a fatling of lies.”

456 See A. Baumann, “ דָּמָה II,” TDOT 3:260-65.

457 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1975), 1:101.

458 J. M. Boice, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 2:90.

459 The citation of Martin Luther is taken from the Preface to the Latin Writings (LW, 34:336-37) as quoted by Justo L. González, A History of Christian Thought (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), 3:29. See also K. S. Latourette, A History of Christianity, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 2:703-7.

460 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1948), p. 211.

461 J. Gerald Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances,” HTR 73 (1980): 53-78.

462 See M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 1:169; S. E. Loewenstamm, “ Ya„pîah£, ya„piah£, ya„pe„ah£," 26 (1962-63): 205-8.

463 Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4,” p. 76.

464 Ibid., p. 61.

465 Ibid., pp. 59-60.

466 See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 164; Dietrich-Alex Koch, “Der Text von Hab 2 4b in der Septuaginta und im Neuen Testament,” ZNW 76 (1985): 73 n. 26. הִנֵּה can of course appear in other environments (cf. v. 19).

467 See H. van Dyke Parunak, “Transitional Techniques in the Bible,” JBL 102 (1983): 540-41.

468 For details, see J. A. Emerton, “Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk 2:4-5,” JTS 28 (1977): 1-18.

469 With the Arabic root one may also compare the late Hebrew הֶעְפִּיל “be foolhardy,” “act rashly”; see Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950), 2:1100. For the division of the Hebrew noun in MT into לֹה and עַף, see Emerton, “Linguistic Problems,” pp. 16-17.

470 See the Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:356. The reading of the Pesh. and the Tg. Neb. underscores the possibility of an emendation to “the wicked” here, an idea supported by the occurrence of forms of the roots צדק and ישׁר together with the concept of wickedness elsewhere (e.g., Deut. 32:4; cf. Ps. 92:15 [HB 92:16]). A similar proposal is that an original עַוָּל may have fallen out due to haplography (so Wellhausen). W. H. Brownlee (“The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk,” JBL 82 [1963]: 322-24) suggests the retaining of the MT עֻפְּלָה but with the interpolation of a following עַוָּל and then with redivision yielding עפל העול, “the haughty is naughty”!

471 W. H. Ward (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911], p. 14 n.) pronounces the whole line “corrupt past safe reconstruction.”

472 See E. Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 116-17; C. E. Armerding, The Old Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 126.

473 See Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4,” pp. 62-66. H. W. Wolff (Anthropology of the Old Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974], p. 10) declares that “today we are coming to the conclusion that it is only in a very few passages that the translation ‘soul’ corresponds to the meaning of nepesŒ.”

474 See the excellent discussion in Wolff, Anthropology, pp. 10-26.

475 Wolff (Anthropology, pp. 17-18) gives an inclusive list of such passages.

476 Prov. 29:10 seems to indicate that the upright is concerned for his neighbor’s nepesŒ (but cf. NIV). For an excellent discussion of the difficult second line of this verse, see William McKane, Proverbs (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), p. 637.

477 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:71.

478 For details, see GKC, par. 7b, c; 84c; 91e; cf. Hab. 3:4.

479 See GKC, par. 15e, f; the pronoun with ב would be resumptive.

480 See further A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1901), par. 143; 144 and the translation on p. 177.

481 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 14.

482 See H. G. Stigers, “ צָדֵק”,”TWOT 2:752-55. A comprehensive investigation of the root and its manifold usages may be found in K. Koch, “ צדק,” THAT 2:507-30.

483 For helpful discussions of divine righteousness, see J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), pp. 154-61; W. Dyrness, Themes in Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979), pp. 53-57; Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, 4th Eng. ed., trans. William Urwick (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1895), pp. 183-88.

484 Geerhardus Vos (Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954], pp. 270-76) maintains that a judicial substratum is to be observed throughout the whole assortment of contexts where צַדִּיק occurs. See also Cremer, Lexicon, pp. 690-92.

485 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 3:468.

486 M. J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983], 1:299) points out that God’s attributes control His acts and give to man a model to “relate to God by governing our actions in accordance with what the Scriptures say God is like.” Cremer (Lexicon, p. 184) observes: “Righteousness in the biblical sense is a condition of rightness the standard of which is God, which is estimated according to the divine standard, which shows itself in behaviour conformable to God, and has to do above all things with its relation to God, and with the walk before Him.” This aspect of the consideration of צַדִּיק, however, by no means minimizes the truth of the observation of Cranfield (Romans, 1:94) that “there are passages in which s£addîk£, used of Israel or of the individual Israelite, refers to status rather than to ethical condition (see, for example, Ps 32.11 in the light of vv. 1, 2 and 5; Isa 60.21).”

487 יָשָׁר is parallel to צַדִּיק Ps. 33:1 and to תָּם in Job 1:1, 8. It is thus a vital characteristic of the one who fears God and walks uprightly before Him (see the exposition of Hab. 2:4). Interestingly enough, forms of the two suggested emendations for the עֻפְּלָה of the first line are also found in Deut. 32:4: פֹּעַל ,עָוֵל.

488 The danger of assuming the presence of a root’s proposed original meaning throughout the group of words that incorporate the root and/or in every context is duly treated by D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), pp. 26-32; see also James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: SCM Press, 1983), pp. 100-106.

489 Barr, Semantics, pp. 161-87.

490 A. Jepsen, “ אָמַן,” TDOT 1:293.

491 KB-3, 1:61-62.

492 Barr, Semantics, p. 187.

493 J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), pp. 154-56. Lightfoot, however, holds that in Hab. 2:4 the active and passive senses are blended together.

494 A. Jepsen, “ אָמַן,” TDOT 1:317.

495 Ibid., pp. 317, 320.

496 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:73.

497 The LXXA reads μον after δίχαιος. The order given above could also mean “because of faith in me.”

498 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:74.

499 G. J. Zemek, Jr. (“Interpretive Challenges Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b,” GTJ 1 [1980]: 53), follows the lead of his student H. S. Bryant in translating אֱמוּנָה as “‘fruit of faith’: ‘faithful faith’ or ‘steadfast trust.’“ Barr (Semantics, p. 201) maintains that part of the problem here arises from the fact that “Hebrew usage, as far as the Old Testament evidence shows (with some possible qualification for Hab. 2:4), had developed no substantive meaning ‘believing, faith’ to correspond with its well known verb heáemin ‘trust, believe’—but Greek had such a word in πίστις.”

500 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:73.

501 A. P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), p. 310.

502 Keil and Delitzsch, Pentateuch, 1:213. The authors lay stress on הֶאֱמִין as meaning “trust” or “believe” (p. 212), a conclusion acknowledged (though on a different basis) by Barr.

503 See also Ps. 32:11; Isa. 60:21.

504 See Cranfield, Romans, 1:101-2.

505 H. A. W. Meyer (Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Galatians, 5th ed., trans. G. H. Venables [New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884], p. 114) finds in Habakkuk’s words a messianic reference. See also his cogent remarks in Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Romans, 5th ed., trans. J. C. Moore and E. Johnson, trans. rev. and ed. W. P. Dickson (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), p. 53.

506 E. F. Harrison, “Romans,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 20.

507 N. R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), p. 198.

508 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 274-75. Bruce’s discussion (pp. 271-75) contains full data as to the critical problems in the LXX citation of Hab. 2:4. See also B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 347-48.

509 In his helpful excursus on chap. 3, C. Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985], 7:521) likewise notes this structural arrangement and views it as a large chiasmus: “introduction, v. 1 (A); prayer, v. 2 (B); theophany, vv. 3-15 (C); response, vv. 16-19 (B1); epilogue, v. 19 (A1).”

510 For the uniqueness of chap. 3, as well as its essential unity with chaps. 1-2, see under Literary Context in the introduction.

511 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:102.

512 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:523.

513 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:93.

514 Ibid.; see also C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976), p. 216.

515 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:523.

516 J. D. W. Watts, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, Cambridge New English Bible Commentary (London: Cambridge U. 1975), p. 144. See also Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:362. The NJB renders the term “tune for dirges,” perhaps reflecting a relation with the Akkadian s†egu„, “psalm of lament”; see further C. Bezold, Babylonisch-Assyrisches Glossar (Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1926), p. 265.

517 The LXX translates the term μετὰ ᾠδῆς (“with an ode”), whereas the Vg renders it pro ignorantiis and the Pesh. omits it.

518 J. Ronald Blue, “Habakkuk,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J. F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor, 1985), p. 1517.

519 Theodore Hiebert, God of My Victory, Harvard Semitic Monographs 38 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1986), pp. 60-61.

520 To the contrary, see Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:94-95; H. E. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1973), pp. 116-17; C. von Orelli, The Twelve Minor Prophets, trans. J. S. Banks (1897; reprint, Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977), p. 252.

521 For details, see M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:432.

522 See W. H. Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), p. 26; see also Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 13-14.

523 M. L. Barré (“Habakkuk 3:2: Translation in Context,” CBQ 50 [1988]: 184-97) translates רֹגֶז as “fury” and views it as parallel to קֶרֶב, which he understands as “battle.”

524 For details, see L. J. Coppes, “ רָחַם,” TWOT 2:841-43; H. J. Stoebe, “ רחם,” THAT 2:761-67.

525 W. F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Dedicated to T. H. Robinson, ed. H. H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1950), p. 8.

526 F. M. Cross, Jr., “The Divine Warrior in Israel’s Early Cult,” in Biblical Motifs, ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1966), p. 25. Cross links this motif with the idea of kingship and suggests that both were utilized in the royal cultus (pp. 27-33). See further R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 130-31.

527 See, e.g., D. N. Freedman, “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah,” BA 50 (1987): 241-49. Also see André Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Asherah?” BAR 10 (1984): 42-51. Lemaire’s article remains among the finest and most balanced in the sizable literature on this subject.

528 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:525; see further G. Warmuth, “ הוֹד,” TDOT 3:352-54.

529 See BDB, p. 240.

530 Albright (“The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 8) suggests that the poem “was probably taken with little alteration from a very early Israelite poem on the theophany of Yahweh as exhibited in the south-east storm, the zauba’ah of the Arabs; the historico-geographical background reflects the period following the wilderness wanderings.”

531 Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:526) points out that “the ‘hand’ is repeatedly a symbol of the Lord’s power ... a ‘power’ manifested conspicuously in the forces of nature ... which are ‘hidden’ in his storehouse.”

532 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:100.

533 See Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 77-79. See also Frank Moore Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1950), pp. 54-56; Moshe Held, “The YQTL-QTL (QTL-YQTL) Sequence of Identical Verbs in Biblical Hebrew and in Ugaritic,” in Studies and Essays in Honor of Abraham A. Neuman, ed. M. Ben-Horin, B. D. Weinryb, and S. Zeitlin (Leiden: Brill, 1962), pp. 281-90.

534 See Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, WEC, ed. Kenneth Barker (Chicago: Moody, 1990), p. 362.

535 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” pp. 11-12.

536 See Z. S. Harris, Development of the Canaanite Dialects (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1939), pp. 55-56. For its possible presence elsewhere in Habakkuk, see the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4.

537 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:101.

538 Hiebert (God of My Victory, pp. 95-97) suggests that Kushan and Midian were not objects of God’s terrifying activity but, like Habakkuk, were possibly worshipers of Yahweh who shared his awe. He finds in this suggestion “a very early date for the composition of this material” (p. 97).

539 See W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), p. 186. See also Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 92-94; John Day, “New Light on the Mythological Background of the Allusions to Resheph in Habakkuk iii 5,” VT 29 (1979): 353-55. For the proposed Eblaite evidence, see the comments of M. Dahood in G. Pettinato, The Archives of Ebla (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981), p. 296.

540 See Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 15. Hiebert (God of My Victory, p. 21) follows Albright in this and comments on the projected hapax legomenon as follows: “The verb h£tá, ‘to crush, ruin, vanquish,’ though not attested elsewhere in biblical Hebrew, is a common Semitic verb. It is present in Ugaritic literature ... and in the Amarna correspondence.... Also to be noted are the Akkadian h¬ata‚ (for h¬ata„áu), ‘smash,’ and the Arabic h¬ataáa, ‘to be broken, humbled’ (8th form).” Both Albright and Hiebert are forced to emend the text, each doing it in a different way.

541 תחת appears as a geographical name in Num. 33:26-27. און-type forms occur as personal names and geographical names in the OT (e.g., Num. 16:1; Ezra 2:33; Neh. 6:2; 7:37; 11:35; Amos 1:5; cf. Gen. 36:23; 38:4, 8, 9, etc.). If תחתאון is to be taken as a geographical name, ־און may be associated with a noun meaning “vigor” or “wealth” coming from a second homophonous root to that of the usual noun translated “trouble,” “wickedness,” “distress.” The confusion between the two words may have been viewed as a literary pun: תחתאון, “wealthy place,” is seen as “in distress.”

542 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 95.

543 See Feinberg, Minor Prophets, p. 218.

544 See A. Cooper, “Divine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts,” RSP, 3:375-76; for a similar treatment, see U. Cassuto, “Chapter III of Habakkuk and the Ras Shamra Texts,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 2:11-12.

545 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:103. Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:528) rightly observes that “Exodus and Sinai alike are the incarnation of events with universal significance.”

546 For enclitic -m, see M. Pope, “Ugaritic Enclitic -m,” JCS 5 (1951): 123-28; H. D. Hummel, “Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew,” JBL 76 (1957): 85-106; M. Dahood, Psalms, 3:408-9.

547 See, e.g., Cross, Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, p. 140; M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 1:203.

548 Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:284; for רכב, see R. D. Patterson, “A Multiplex Approach to Psalm 45,” GTJ 6 (1985): 29-48.

549 D. N. Freedman, “The Broken Construct Chain,” Biblica 53 (1972): 535. For added discussion as to the broken construct chain, see A. C. M. Blommerde, “The Broken Construct Chain, Further Examples,” Biblica 55 (1974): 549-52. For a negative appraisal of the whole concept, see J. D. Price, “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel,” GTJ 6 (1985): 79-88.

550 See M. H. Pope, Song of Songs, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), pp. 303-4.

551 See W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 183.

552 For the motif of the divine warrior, see F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1973), pp. 91-111; D. Stuart, “The Sovereign’s Day of Conquest: A Possible Ancient Near Eastern Reflex of the Israelite ‘Day of Yahweh’,” BASOR 221 (1976): 159-64; Patrick D. Miller, Jr., The Divine Warrior in Early Israel (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1973).

553 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 25.

554 Note the translation in the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:364: “You uncover your bow (so that it is) naked”; cf. RSV, “strip.”

555 For details, see GKC, par. 117p, q, cc-ee.

556 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 12.

557 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:103.

558 B. Margulis, “The Psalm of Habakkuk: A Reconstruction and Interpretation,” ZAW 82 (1970): 420.

559 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 347. See further H. St. John Thackery, “Primitive Lectionary Notes in the Psalm of Habakkuk,” JTS 12 (1911): 191-213.

560 See Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:258. The ת in מַטּוֹת is the common Canaanite fem. sing. ending.

561 Ward, Habakkuk, p.23. See also Patterson, “Psalm 45,” pp. 38-39; Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 26-27.

562 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 15. Albright, however, needlessly takes the following mat£t£o‚t from Epigraphic South Arabic mt£w (“fight”). The verb could also be pointed as a piel suffix conjugation שִׂבַּעְתָּ (“you satisfied”; cf. BHS).

563 See G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1956), pp. 84-85.

564 See C. Gordon, UT, 3:356.

565 UT, 2:180.

566 For the use of double-duty consonants, see I. O. Lehman, “A Forgotten Principle of Biblical Textual Tradition Rediscovered,” JNES 26 (1967): 93; cf. Dahood, Psalms, 2:81; 3:371. For asyndetic subordination, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax (Toronto: Toronto U., 1976), p. 90; Dahood, Psalms, 3:426-27; A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1958), pp. 191-92. For the corresponding Akkadian construction, see W. von Soden, GAG, p. 219.

567 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 98.

568 For archaeological illumination of the stopping up of the Jordan due to earthquake and the effect of seismic activity on the fall of Jericho, see J. P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1962), pp. 128-29; John J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and Conquest (Sheffield: Almond, 1981), pp. 121-24.

569 Hiebert follows John Holladay and Patrick Miller in holding that the mention of sun and moon here not only has astrological importance but also implies their presence in the heavenly retinue: “Sun and Moon, members of the divine army, appear together in the sky in positions considered fortuitous astrologically, when the divine warrior goes into battle. As such they provide support for the attack (v 11b) launched by Yahweh” (God of My Victory, p. 100).

570 Theophany and judgment are also commonly combined in quasi-apocalyptic literature dealing with the Day of the Lord (cf. Isa. 13:10, 24:23; Joel 2:2, 10, 31 [HB 3:4]; 3:15 [HB 4:15]; Amos 5:8, 20; 8:9; Zeph. 1:15; see also Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12-13; 9:2).

571 Several other parallel terms common to Ugaritic and Hebrew have been suggested as present here by Dahood (“Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:177-78, 218, 372-73): תֵץ|| יָד, נָתַן || נָשָׂא, תְּהוֹם || קוֹל (although the LXX may be right in finding the parallel of תְּהוֹם as רוֹם).

572 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 29.

573 Ibid., p. 30.

574 M. Dahood, “The Phoenician Contribution to Biblical Wisdom Literature,” in The Role of the Phoenicians in the Interaction of Mediterranean Civilizations, ed. William A. Ward (Beirut: American U. of Beirut, 1968), p. 140.

575 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 12.

576 For the use of fixed pairs of set terms, see S. Gevirtz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1963), pp. 2-4, 10-14; Y. Avishur, “Word Pairs Common to Phoenician and Biblical Hebrew,” UF 7 (1975): 13-47. Note, however, the caution of P. C. Craigie, “Parallel Words in the Song of Deborah,” JETS 20 (1977): 15-22. For the participation of other celestial phenomena in earthly events, see Judg. 5:20; Isa. 60:19-20; and the remarks of P. C. Craigie, “Three Ugaritic Notes on the Song of Deborah,” JSOT 2 (1977): 33-49.

577 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), p. 114.

578 See the discussion of J. Gamberoni, “ זְבֻל,” TDOT 4:29-31; see also H. Wolf, “ זְבֻל ,” TWOT 1:235.

579 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 21.

580 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:66.

581 A. G. Nute, “Habakkuk,” in The International Bible Commentary, ed. F. F. Bruce, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p. 949.

582 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:531.

583 Blue, “Habakkuk,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 1520. The song itself, however, sang of the basic victory that made the eventual conquest of the land possible: the celebrated triumph at the time of Israel’s Exodus (cf. Ex. 12:31-36, 50-51; Acts 7:35-36; etc.).

584 Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:366-67.

585 For details, see A. R. Hulst, Old Testament Translation Problems (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), p. 252.

586 U. Cassuto, “Psalm LXVIII,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies, translated by Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1973), 1:268. See also Moshe Held, “ mh£s£, * m h in Ugaritic and Other Semitic Languages,” JAOS 79 (1959): 169-76. For discussion of progression of meaning as a strategy for intensification, see R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), pp. 63-65.

587 Hiebert (God of My Victory, p. 108) may be correct in affirming that “no single historical battle or enemy is singled out by the poet as is the case, for example, in Judges 5. The hymn of triumph celebrates, as do Deut 33:2-3, 26-29 and Psalm 68, the wars of conquest as a whole.”

588 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:111.

589 Ps. 114:3, 5 likewise links together both watery crossings of the Israelites, whereas Ps. 77:19 (HB 77:20) applies the “many waters” mentioned here (cf. Ex. 15:10) in connection with the Red Sea crossing to the crossing of the Jordan River. For the debate over the matter of whether the Hebrew יַם־סוּף is to be translated “Red Sea” or “Sea of Reeds,” see R. L. Hubbard, Jr., “Red Sea,” ISBE 4:58-61, and the extensive bibliography there. For the linking of the Exodus and Conquest episodes, see M. Fishbane, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979), pp. 121-40.

590 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:112.

591 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:530.

592 See M. Dahood, “Two Yiphil Causatives in Hab 313a,” Or 48 (1979): 258-59. Note that ישׁע uniformly occurs in Northwest Semitic in the extensive stem; see, e.g., the Moabite Inscription, line 4, H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kannaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1966), 1:33.

593 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 13.

594 Freedman, “The Broken Construct Chain,” p. 535. Freedman goes on to remark: “Apparently the second phrase is a construct chain, like the first, except that the intrusive át has been inserted between the construct and the absolute. Exactly what the át is it may be difficult to say: it may be the emphasizing particle, normally used to identify the definite direct object of a verb (here of the action), or it may be the pronoun written defectively, used here to call attention to the pronominal suffix attached to the following noun.”

595 See GKC, par. 117 1, m.

596 See E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950), 2:217. The understanding of את as “with” is also ably defended by A. R. Fausset, “Habakkuk,” in R. Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 4:635-36. For additional cases of double-duty prepositions occurring only in the second parallel line, see the examples in Dahood, Psalms, 3:436-37.

597 For a discussion of the prepositions אֶת and עִם, see H. D. Preuss, “ אֵת,” TDOT 1:449-58.

598 See ANET, p. 67.

599 See ibid., p. 20.

600 See ibid., p. 131.

601 For details, see GKC, par. 75n; Williams, Hebrew Syntax, pp. 38-39; M. Hammershaimb, “On the So-called Infinitivus Absolutus in Hebrew,” in Hebrew and Semitic Studies Presented to Godfrey Rolles Driver, ed. D. W. Thomas and W. D. McHardy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), pp. 85-93.

602 See Davidson, Syntax, pp. 18-19. BDB (p.641) lists possible masculine and feminine plural forms for מַטֶּה Dual ascriptions of gender are not without precedent with other nouns (e.g., שֶׁמֶשׁ); see Davidson, Syntax, p. 15.

603 See R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” p. 132.

604 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p.43. Indeed, Margulis (“The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 427) observes with regard to the whole verse, “This text seems to defy comprehension. It is at first sight the most seriously damaged portion of the poem.” For full details as to the vast array of variant readings in this verse (especially the first four lines), see Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 43-46.

605 Suitable parallels can be found in Pss. 10:2, 8-10; 35:10; Prov. 30:14; etc.

606 For the preposition ב with דָּרַךְ (“tread on”), see Deut. 1:36, Josh. 14:9; Isa. 59:8; 63:2; Mic. 5:4-5.

607 For details, see Dahood, Psalms, 3:436.

608 Blue, “Habakkuk,” p. 1521. T. Hiebert (“The Use of Inclusion in Habakkuk 3,” in Directions in Biblical Poetry, ed. E. R. Follis [Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1987], p. 133) insists that no visible theophany occurred: “The theophany is an account ( sŒmà, qwl) which the poet has heard ( sŒmàty). The source of the account is human rather than divine, as is indicated by the fact that the divine subject of the account does not address the poet in the first person but is addressed by the narrator in the second and third persons. The poet thus locates himself within the milieu of recital. Habakkuk 3 represents the preservation and passing down of sacred traditions.”

609 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:113.

610 See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York: Harper, 1931), 4:266.

611 Habakkuk’s example of faith (he was learning the truth of Hab. 2:4) is reminiscent of the declaration of E. J. Carnell (An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, 4th ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], p. 82) that “faith is a resting of the soul in the sufficiency of the evidence.”

612 For details, see J. G. Hava, Al-Faraid Arabic-English Dictionary (Beirut: Catholic Press, 1964), p. 264.

613 See further Hulst, Translation Problems, p. 252; Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:369-70; Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 51-52.

614 I take the verb to be an example of an inwardly transitive hiphil (see GKC, par. 53d); the meaning of the following noun is well attested in Ethiopic (see W. Leslau, Ethiopic and South Arabic Contributions to the Hebrew Lexicon, U. of California Publications on Semitic Philology XX [Los Angeles: U. of California, 1958], p. 12).

615 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 52, citing S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York: Scribner’s, 1914), pp. 96-97. Ward (Habakkuk, p. 25) similarly complains: “This verse requires correction to make the latter half intelligible.” Hiebert’s wholesale emendations are, however, less than convincing and add little to clarify the MT.

616 See e.g., Ward, Habakkuk, p. 28.

617 R. L. Harris, “ נוּחַTWOT 2:562.

618 See Williams, Hebrew Syntax, par. 273.

619 See the study of M. Futato, “The Preposition ‘Beth’ in the Hebrew Psalter,” WTJ 41 (1978): 68-81, especially pp. 70-72, where Futato makes a case for ל used to signify position at or during a course of action.

620 For details, see GKC, par. 119r; Williams, Hebrew Syntax, par. 271.

621 The LXX παροιχίας μον (“my sojourn”) apparently arises from a confusion of the Hebrew letters ד and ר, hence taking the root as גּוּר (“sojourn”).

622 For a discussion of the passage as a whole, see Cross, Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, pp. 128-83.

623 For a similar use of asyndetic parataxis in Akkadian, see R. D. Patterson, Old Babylonian Parataxis (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1971), pp. 128-81.

624 LXXBarb omits it altogether.

625 See further W. L. Moran (A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets [Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1967], pp. 28-52) and S. Schrader (“Was the Earth Created a Few Thousand Years Ago—Yes,” in The Genesis Debate, ed. Ronald Youngblood [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990], pp. 76-77) for discussions of this syntactical device in other settings.

626 See R. D. Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, 7:244.

627 For the qal passive, see R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” in Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1970), pp. 43-50.

628 For the proposed interchangeability of מִן and ב, see Nahum M. Sarna, “The Interchange of the Prepositions Beth and Min in Biblical Hebrew,” JBL 78 (1959): 310-16. Similar functional interchange has been suggested for several of the Hebrew prepositions, including ב and תַּחַת (cf. v. 16), for which see J. C. Greenfield, “The Preposition B . . . Tah£at . . . in Jes 575,” ZAW 73 (1961): 226-28.

629 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:103.

630 P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), p. 79.

631 For details, see D. A. Foxvog and A. D. Kilmer, “Music,” ISBE 3:436-49.

632 Foxvog and Kilmer (“Music,” ISBE 3:448) warn against too ready an identification with stringed instruments in every occurrence of this term (e.g., Job 30:9; Ps. 69:12 [HB 69:13]; Isa. 38:30; Lam. 5:14).

633 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:116. 1 Chron. 23:5 lists about 4,000 musicians employed in the Temple worship of whom 288 apparently were master musicians (1 Chron. 25:7).

634 Charles Wesley, “Rejoice—the Lord Is King!” in Hymns for the Family of God (Nashville: Paragon, 1976), no. 374.

635 In addition to the utilization of the material in my article in the Grace Theological Journal (see Introduction to Habakkuk, n. 21), I wish to acknowledge the helpfulness of studies by W. F. Albright, C. E. Armerding, U. Cassuto, and T. Hiebert (see the References).

636 T. Hiebert, God of My Victory, Harvard Semitic Monographs 38 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1986), p. 59. C. E. Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC [Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985], 7:521) finds a similar arrangement while treating the whole chapter as a chiasmus: introduction (v. 1), prayer (v. 2), theophany (vv. 3-15), response (vv. 16-19), epilogue (v. 19).

637 See Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 61.

638 Hiebert (ibid., p. 68) calls attention to “the pattern ‘trembling steps—anguish/joy—firm steps’” that unites the closing framework section to both the preceding theophanic material and the initial framework portion in v. 2.

639 The classic study of the corpus of ancient Hebrew literature is by Frank Moore Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U., 1950). See also Frank Moore Cross, Jr., and David N. Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1952). Other compositions reflecting this stage of Hebrew literature include Gen. 49:2-27; Ex. 15:1-18; Num. 23:7-10, 18-24; 24:3-9, 15-19, 20-24; Deut. 33:3-29; Judg. 5:2-31; Ps. 18 (=2 Sam. 22:2-51); 2 Sam. 23:1-7.

640 See Introduction to Habakkuk, n. 19.

641 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 76.

642 See chap. 3, n. 24.

643 Thus T. Hiebert (“The Use of Inclusion in Habakkuk 3,” in Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, ed. Elaine R. Follis [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987], p. 122) rightly observes: “The use of inclusion in Habakkuk 3 indicates the presence of four stanzas: introductory and concluding units (Stanza I, v. 2; Stanza IV, vv. 16-19) which provide a literary framework for the theophany in vv. 3-15, which is itself composed of two distinct units (Stanza II, vv. 3-7; Stanza III, vv. 8-15).”

644 For the justification of Hab. 33-15 as epic and a consideration of its relation to the other epic literature of the ancient world, see R. D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” GTJ 8 (1987): 178-92. Hiebert (God of My Victory, p. 118) likewise terms the material epic, although he applies this terminology to the whole third chapter.

645 See A. J. Hauser, “Two Songs of Victory: A Comparison of Exodus 15 and Judges 5,” in Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, pp. 265-84.

646 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 61.

647 Ibid., pp. 117-18.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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