(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 1)
... Continued from Part a

Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk 
Chapter 1. 
Lecture One Hundred and Sixth. 
Habakkuk 1:1 
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. 
    The greater part of interpreters refer this burden to the 
Chaldeans and the monarchy of Babylon; but of this view I do not 
approve, and a good reason compels me to dissent from their opinion: 
for as the Prophet addresses the Jews, and without any addition 
calls his prophecy a burden, there is no doubt but that he refers to 
them. Besides, their view seems wholly inconsistent, because the 
Prophet dreads the future devastation of the land, and complains to 
God for allowing His chosen and elect people to be so cruelly 
treated. What others think is more correct - that this burden 
belonged to the Jews. 
    What the Prophet understood by the word "masa" has been 
elsewhere stated. Habakkuk then reproves here his own nation, and 
shows that they had in vain disdainfully resisted all God's 
prophets, for they would at length find that their threatening would 
be accomplished. The burden, then, which the Prophet Habakkuk saw, 
was this - That God, after having exercised long forbearance towards 
the Jews, would at length be the punisher of their many sins. It now 
follows - 
Habakkuk 1:2,3 
O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! [even] cry out 
unto thee [of] violence, and thou wilt not save! 
Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause [me] to behold grievance? 
for spoiling and violence [are] before me: and there are [that] 
raise up strife and contention. 
    As I have already reminded you, interpreters think that the 
Prophet speaks here of future things, as though he had in his view 
the calamity which he afterwards mentions; but this is too strained 
a meaning; I therefore doubt not but that the Prophet expostulates 
here with God for so patiently indulging a reprobate people. For 
though the Prophets felt a real concern for the safety of the 
people, there is yet no doubt but that they burned with zeal for the 
glory of God; and when they saw that they had to contend with 
refractory men, they were then inflamed with a holy displeasure, and 
undertook the cause of God; and they implored His aid to bring a 
remedy when the state of things had become desperate. I therefore 
consider that the Prophet here solicits God to visit these many sins 
in which the people had hardened themselves. And hence we conclude 
that he had previously exercised his office of a teacher; for it 
would have been otherwise improper for him to begin his work with 
such a complaint and expostulation. He had then by experience found 
that the people were extremely perverse. When he saw that there was 
no hope of amendment, and that the state of things was becoming 
daily worse, burning with zeal for God, he gave full vent to his 
feelings. Before, then, he threatens the people with the future 
vengeance of God, he withdraws himself, as it were, from intercourse 
with men, and in private addresses God himself. 
    We must bear this first in mind, that the Prophet relates here 
the secret colloquy he had with God: but it ought not to be ascribed 
to an unfeeling disposition, that in these words he wished to hasten 
God's vengeance against his own kindred; for it behaved the Prophet 
not only to be solicitous for the salvation of the people, but also 
to feel a concern for the glory of God, yea, to burn with a holy 
zeal. As, then, he had in vain laboured for a length of time, I 
doubt not but that, being as it were far removed from the presence 
of all witnesses, he here asks God, how long he purposed thus to 
bear with the wickedness of the people. We now apprehend the design 
of the Prophet and the import of his words. 
    But he says first, How long, Jehovah, shall I cry, and thou 
hearest not? How long shall I cry to thee for violence, that is, on 
account of violence, and thou savest not? We hence learn, that the 
Prophet had often prayed God to correct the people for their 
wickedness, or to contrive some means to prevent so much 
licentiousness in sinning. It is indeed probable that the Prophet 
had prayed as long as there was any hope; but when he saw that 
things were past recovery, he then prayed more earnestly that God 
would undertake the office of a judge, and chastise the people. For 
though the Prophet really condoled with those who perished, and was 
touched, as I have said, with a serious concern for their public 
safety, he yet preferred the glory of God: when, therefore, he saw 
that boldness in sin increased through impunity, and that the Jews 
in a manlier mocked God when they found that they could sin without 
being punished, he could not endure such unbridled wantonness. 
Besides, the Prophet may have spoken thus, not only as expressing 
his own feeling, but what he felt in common with all the godly; as 
though he had undertaken here a public duty, and utters a complaint 
common to all the faithful: for it is probable that all the godly, 
in so disordered a state of things, mourned alike. How long, then, 
shall I cry? How long, he says, shall I cry on account of violence? 
that is, When all things are in disorder, when there is now no 
regard for equity and justice, but men abandon themselves, as it 
were with loose reins, unto all kinds of wickedness, how long, Lord, 
wilt thou take no notice? But in these words the Prophet not only 
egresses his own feelings, but makes this kind of preface, that the 
Jews might better understand that the time of vengeance was come; 
for they were become not only altogether intolerable to God, but 
also to his servants. God indeed had suspended his judgement, though 
he had been often solicited to execute it by his Prophet. It hence 
appears, that their wickedness had made such advances that it would 
be no wonder if they were now severely chastised by the Lord; for 
they had by their sins not only provoked him against them, but also 
all the godly and the faithful. 
    He afterwards adds, how long wilt thou show me iniquity, and 
make me to see trouble? Here the Prophet briefly relates the cause 
of his indignation, - that he could not, without great grief, yea, 
without anguish of mind, behold such evils prevailing among God's 
chosen people; for they who apply this to the Chaldeans, do so 
strainedly, and without any necessity, and they have not observed 
the reason which I have stated - that the Prophet does not here 
teach the Jews, but prepares them for a coming judgement, as they 
could not but see that they were justly condemned, since they were 
proved guilty by the cry and complaints made by all the godly. 
    Now this passage teaches us, that all who really serve and love 
God, ought, according to the Prophet's example, to burn with holy 
indignation whenever they see wickedness reigning without restraint 
among men, and especially in the Church of God. There is indeed 
nothing which ought to cause us more grief than to see men raging 
with profane contempt for God, and no regard had for his law and for 
divine truth, and all order trodden under foot. When therefore such 
a confusion appears to us, we must feel roused, if we have in us any 
spark of religion. If it be objected, that the Prophet exceeded 
moderation, the obvious answer is this, - that though he freely 
pours forth his feelings, there was nothing wrong in this before 
God, at least nothing wrong is imputed to him: for wherefore do we 
pray, but that each of us may unburden his cares, his griefs, and 
anxieties, by pouring them into the bosom of God? Since, then, God 
allows us to deal so familiarly with him, nothing wrong ought to be 
ascribed to our prayers when we thus freely pour forth our feelings, 
provided the bridle of obedience keeps us always within due limits, 
as was the case with the Prophet; for it is certain that he was 
retained under the influence of real kindness. Jeremiah did indeed 
pray with unrestrained fervour (Jer. 15: 10): but his case was 
different from that of our Prophet; for he proceeds not here to an 
excess, as Jeremiah did when he cursed the day of his birth, and 
when he expostulated with God for being made a man of contention. 
But our Prophet undertakes here the defence of justice; for he could 
not endure the law of God to be made a sport, and men to allow 
themselves every liberty in sinning. 
    We now, then, see that the Prophet can be justly excused, 
though he expostulates here with God, for God does not condemn this 
freedom in our prayers; but, on the contrary, the end of praying is, 
that every one of us pour forth, as it is said in the Psalms, his 
heart before God. As, then, we communicate our cares and sorrows to 
God, it is no wonder that the Prophet, according to the manner of 
men, says, Why dost thou show me iniquity, and make me to see 
trouble? Trouble is to be taken here in an active sense, and the 
verb "tabit" has a transitive meaning. Some render it, Why dost thou 
look on trouble? as though the Prophet indignantly bore the 
connivance of God. But the context necessarily requires that this 
verb should be taken in a transitive sense. "Why dost thou show me 
iniquity?" and then, "and makest me to look on violence?" He says 
afterwards, in the third place, in my sight is violence. But I have 
said, that the word trouble is to be taken actively; for the prophet 
means not that he was worn out with weariness, but that wicked men 
were troublesome to the good and the innocent, as it is usually the 
case when a freedom in sinning prevails. 
    And why, he says, are violence and plunder in my sight? and 
there is he who excites, &c.? The verb "nasa" means not here to 
undertake, as some render it; but, on the contrary, to raise. Others 
render it, "Who supports," but this is frigid. Therefore the 
translation which I have stated is the most suitable - And why is 
there one who excites strife and contention? 
    But the Prophet here accuses them only of sins against the 
second table of the law: he speaks not of the superstitions of 
people, and of the corrupted worship of God; but he briefly says, 
that they had no regard for what was just and right: for the 
stronger any one was, the more he distressed the helpless and the 
innocent. It was then for this reason that he mentioned iniquity, 
trouble, plunder, violence, contention, strife. In short, the 
Prophet here deplores, that there was now no equity and no brotherly 
kindness among the people, but that robberies, rapines, and 
tyrannical violence prevailed everywhere. It follows - 
Habakkuk 1:4 
Therefore the law is slacked, and judgement doth never go forth: for 
the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong 
judgement proceedeth. 
    The Prophet confirms here what I have already said, and brings 
an excuse for his zeal; he proves that he was not without reason led 
to so great a warmth; for he saw that the law of God was trodden as 
it were under foot; he saw men so hardened in every kind of sin, 
that all religion and the fear of God had nearly been extinguished. 
Hence I have already said, that the Prophet was not here impelled by 
a carnal passion, as it often happens to us, when we defend 
ourselves from wrongs done to us; for when any one of us is injured, 
he immediately becomes incensed, while, at the same time, we suffer 
God's law to be a sport, His whole truth to be despised, and 
everything that is just to be violated. We are only tender on what 
concerns us individually, and in the meantime we easily forgive when 
God is wronged, and His truth despised. But the Prophet shows here 
that he was not made indignant through a private feeling, but 
because he could not bear the profanation of God's worship and the 
violation of His holy law. 
    He therefore says, that the law was dissolved or weakened, as 
though he said that God's law had no longer any authority or regard. 
Let us hence learn to rouse up ourselves, for we are very frigid, 
when the ungodly openly despise and even mock God. As, then, we are 
too unconcerned in this respect, let us learn, by the Prophet's 
example, to stimulate ourselves. For even Paul also shows, in an 
indirect way, that there is just reason for indignation - 'Be ye 
angry,' he says, 'and sin not,' (Eph. 4: 26); that is, every one 
ought to regard his own sins, so as to become an enemy to himself; 
and he ought also to feel indignant whenever he sees God offended. 
    This rule the Prophet now follows, Weakened, he says, is the 
law. We know that when a sinful custom prevails, there is but little 
authority in what is taught: nor are human laws only despised when 
men's audacity breaks through all restraints, but even the very law 
of God is esteemed as nothing; for they think that everything 
erroneously done, by the consent of all, is lawful. We now then see 
that the Prophet felt great anguish of mind, like holy Lot (Gen. 
19.), when he saw every regard for God almost extinct in the land, 
and especially among the chosen people, whom God had above all 
others consecrated to himself. 
    He then adds, judgement goes not forth perpetually. Absurdly do 
many regard this as having been said in the person of foolish men, 
who think that there is no such thing as divine providence, when 
things in the world are in a disordered state: but the Prophet 
simply says, that all justice was suppressed. We have nearly the 
very same complaint in Isa. 59: 4. He then says, that judgement did 
not go forth perpetually, because the ungodly thought that no 
account was to be given by them. When, therefore, any one dared to 
say a word against them, they immediately boiled with rage, and like 
wild beasts fiercely attacked him. All then were silent, and nearly 
made dumb, when the ungodly thus prevailed and gathered boldness 
from the daily practice of licentiousness. Hence, 'Go forth 
perpetually does not judgement;' that is, "O Lord, things are now 
past hope, and there appears to be no end to our evils, except thou 
comest soon and applies a remedy beyond what our flesh can 
conceive." For the wicked, he says, surround the righteous; that is, 
when there was any one who continued to retain some regard for 
religion and justice, immediately the wicked rose up against him on 
every side and surrounded him before and behind; so it happened, 
that no one dared to oppose the torrent, though frauds, rapines, 
outrages, cruelty, and even murders everywhere prevailed; if any 
righteous men still remained, they dared not come forth into the 
public, for the wicked beset them on all sides. 
    He afterwards adds, Therefore perverted judgement goes forth. 
The Prophet now rises higher, that even the rulers themselves 
increased the rage for evils, and as it were supplied fuel to their 
wickedness, as they confounded all distinction between right and 
wrong: for the Prophet speaks not here of private wrongs which any 
one might have done, but he speaks of the very rulers, as though he 
said, "There might have been one remedy, the judges might have 
checked so great an audacity; but they themselves stretch out their 
hands to the wicked and help them." Hence the tribunals, which ought 
to have been sacred, were become as it were dens of thieves. The 
word "mishpat" is taken properly in a good sense: Is not judgement 
then a desirable thing? Yes, but the Prophet says, that it was 
perverted. It was then by way of concession that judgement is 
mentioned; for he afterwards adds a word to it, by which he shows 
that the administration of the laws was evil and injurious: for when 
any one oppressed had recourse to the assistance of the laws, he was 
plundered. In short, the Prophet means, that all things in private 
and in public were corrupt among the people. It now follows - 
Habakkuk 1:5 
Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: 
for [I] will work a work in your days, [which] ye will not believe, 
though it be told [you]. 
    The Prophet turns his discourse to the Jews, after having 
related the private colloquy, in which he expostulated with God for 
having so patiently borne with the obstinate wickedness of the 
nation. Being now as it were furnished with God's command, (as the 
case really was,) he performs the office of a herald, and proclaims 
an approaching destruction. He indeed adopts a preface, which ought 
to have awakened drowsy and careless minds. He says - look, see, be 
astonished, be astonished; these repetitions do not a little 
increase the alarm; he twice bids them to see, and he twice exhorts 
them to be astonished, or to wonder. He then briefly proclaims the 
judgement of God, which he afterwards more fully describes. We now, 
then, perceive the object of the Prophet, and the manner in which he 
proceeds with his subject. 
    And he bids those among the nations to behold, as though he had 
said, that they were unworthy to be taught in the school of God; he 
therefore appointed other masters for them, even the Chaldeans, as 
we shall presently see. He might have said - "look to God;" but as 
the Prophet had so long spent his labour in vail and without profit 
while teaching them, he sets over them the Chaldeans as teachers. 
Behold, he says, ye teachers among the Gentiles. There is here 
indeed an implied contrast, as thought he said - "God has hitherto 
often recalled you to himself, and has offered himself to you, but 
ye have refused to look to him; now then, as he is wearied with 
exercising patience so long, he appoints for you other teachers; 
learn now from the Gentiles what ye leave hitherto refused to learn 
from the holy mouth of Cod himself". 
    The Greek translators no doubt read "begodim", for their 
version is - "Behold, ye despisers." But in Hebrew there is no 
ambiguity as to the word. 
    He afterwards adds - And wonder ye, wonder. By these words the 
prophets express how dreadful God's judgement would be, which would 
astonish the Jews themselves. Had they not been extremely refractory 
they might have quietly received instruction, for God would have 
addressed them by his prophets, as though they had been his own 
children. They might thus, with composed minds, have listened to God 
speaking to them; but the time was now come when they were to be 
filled with astonishment. We hence see that the Prophet meant this 
in a few words - that there would be a new mode of teaching, which 
would overwhelm the unwilling with astonishment, because they would 
not endure to be ruled in a gentle manner, when the Lord required 
nothing from them but to render themselves teachable. 
    After having said that God's judgement would be dreadful, he 
adds that it was nigh at hand - a work, he says, will he work in 
your days, &c. They had already been often warned of that vengeance, 
but as they had for a long time disregarded it, they did ever remain 
sunk in their own self-delusions, like men who are wont to protract 
time and hunt on every side for some excuse for indulging 
themselves. So then when the people became hardened against all 
threatening, they thought that God would ever bear with them; hence 
the Prophet expressly declares, that the execution of that which 
they regarded as a fable was near at hand - He will work, he says, 
this work in your days. 
    He then subjoins - ye will not believe when it shall be told 
you; that is, God will execute such a punishment as will be 
incredible and exceed all belief. The Prophet no doubt alludes to 
the want of faith in the people, and indirectly reproves them, as 
though he said - "Ye have hitherto denied faith to God's word, but 
ye shall at length find that he has told the truth; and this ye 
shall find to your astonishment; for as his word has been counted by 
you incredible, so also incredible shall be his judgement." In 
short, the Prophet intimates this - that though the Prophets had 
been derided by the Jews, and despised as inventors of fables, yet 
nothing had been said by them which would not be fully accomplished. 
This reward then was to be paid to all the unbelieving; for God 
would in the most dreadful manner avenge their impiety, so that they 
should themselves be astonished and become an astonishment to 
others. We now perceive what the Prophet meant by saying that the 
Jews would not believe the work of God when told them, that is, the 
vengeance which he will presently describe. 
    This passage is quoted by Paul, and is applied to the 
punishment then awaiting the Jews; for Paul, after having offered 
Christ to them, and seeing that many of them regarded the preaching 
of Gospel with scorn, added these words - "see," he said, "and be 
astonished, for God will work a work in your days which ye shall not 
believe." Paul at the same time made a suitable application of the 
Prophet's words; for as God had once threatened his people by his 
Prophet Habakkuk, so he was still like himself; and since had so 
severely vindicated the contempt of his law as to his ancient 
people, he could not surely bear with the impiety of that people 
whom he found to have acted so malignantly and so ungratefully, yea 
so wantonly and perversely, as to reject his grace; for this was the 
last remedy for the Jews. No wonder then that Paul set before them 
this vengeance, when the Jews of his time persisted through their 
unbelief to reject Christ. Now follows the explanation - 
Habakkuk 1:6 
For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, [that] bitter and hasty nation, 
which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the 
dwellingplaces [that are] not theirs. 
    This verse is added by the Prophet as an explanation; for it 
was not enough to speak generally of God's work, without reminding 
them that their destruction by the Chaldeans was nigh at hand. He 
does not indeed in this verse explain what would be the character of 
that judgement which he had mentioned in the last verse; but he will 
do this in what follows. Now the Prophets differ from Moses in this 
respect, for they show, as it were by the finger, what he threatened 
generally, and they declare the special judgements of God; as it is 
indeed evident from the demonstrative adverb, "Behold." How 
necessary this was, we may gather from the perverseness of that 
people; for how distinctly soever the Prophets showed to them God's 
judgements, so that they saw them with their eyes, yet so great was 
their insensibility, that they despised denunciations so apparent. 
What, then, would have been done, if the Prophets had only said in 
general, 'God will not spare you!' This, then, is the reason why the 
Prophet, having spoken of God's terrible vengeance, now declares in 
express terms, that the Chaldeans were already armed by Him to 
execute His judgement. The rest we leave for tomorrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as our sins cry continually to heaven, 
each of us may turn to repentance, and by condemning ourselves of 
our own accord may anticipate thy judgement, and thus stir up 
ourselves to repentance, that being received into favour, we may 
find thee, whom we have provoked to take vengeance, to be indeed our 
Father: and may we be so preserved by thee in this world, that 
having at length put off all our vices, we may attain to that 
perfection of purity, to which thou invites us; and thus lead us 
more and more to thyself by thy Spirit, and separate us from the 
corruptions of this world, that we may glorify thee before men, and 
be at last made partakers of that celestial glory which has been 
purchased for us by the blood of thy only begotten Son. Amen.

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 2...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-01.txt