(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 2)
... Continued from Part 1

Lecture One Hundred and Seventh. 
    In the lecture of yesterday the Prophet began to show from whom 
the Jews were to expect the vengeance of God, even from the 
Chaldeans, who would come, not by their own instinct, but by the 
hidden impulse of God. God indeed testifies that he should be the 
author of this war, and that the Chaldeans would fight, as it were, 
under his auspices. I am he, he says, who excites, &c. Then by 
calling the Chaldeans a bitter and hasty nation, he intended 
seriously to terrify the Jews, who had heedlessly despised all 
threatenings. It was not indeed a subject of praise to the 
Chaldeans, that they were bitter and impetuous: but the Lord could 
turn these vices to a good purpose, inasmuch as he elicits light 
from darkness. When, therefore, we read that the Chaldeans were 
bitter, and also hasty, God thus intimates that he can employ the 
vices of men in executing his judgements, and yet contract hence no 
spot nor blemish; for we cannot possibly pollute him with our filth, 
as he scatters it far away by the brightness of his justice and 
    He afterwards adds, They shall march through the latitudes of 
the earth, to possess habitations not their own. He means that there 
would be no obstacles in the way of the Chaldeans, but that they 
would spread themselves over the whole earth, and occupy regions far 
remote. For they who fear, dare not thus disperse themselves, but, 
on the contrary, they advance cautiously with a collected army; but 
those, who have already obtained victory, march on to lay waste the 
land. This is what the Prophet says the Chaldeans would do. 
    The meaning is - that they would not come to carry on an 
uncertain warfare, but that they would enjoy a victory; for they 
would by an impetuous course fill the land, so as to occupy tents or 
habitations not their own. It was indeed a matter of blame in the 
Chaldeans, that they thus made inroads on their own neighbours: but, 
as I have said, God intended only to fill the Jews with terror, 
because he found that all threatenings were despised. He therefore 
meant to show how terrible the Chaldeans would be, and he confirms 
the same in the next verse. 
Habakkuk 1:7 
They [are] terrible and dreadful: their judgement and their dignity 
shall proceed of themselves. 
    By saying that the Chaldeans would be terrible and dreadful, he 
praises not their virtues; but, as I have already reminded you, he 
shows that they would be prepared to do his service by executing his 
vengeance: and he so regulated his judgement, that he used their 
cruelty for a good purpose. Thus we see that the worst of men are in 
God's hand, as Satan is, who is their head; and yet that God is not 
implicated in their wickedness, as some insane men maintain; for 
they say - That if God governs the world by his providence, he 
becomes thus the author of sin, and men's sins are to be ascribed to 
him. But Scripture teaches us far otherwise, - that the wicked are 
led here and there by the hidden power of God, and that yet the 
fault is in them, when they do anything in a deceitful and cruel 
manner, and that God ever remains just, whatever use he may make of 
instruments, yea, the very worst. 
    But when the Prophet adds, that its judgement would be from the 
nation itself, he means that the Chaldeans would act according to 
their own will. When any one indeed obeys laws, and willingly 
submits to them, he will freely allow either judges or umpires in 
case of a dispute; but he who will have all things done according to 
his own purpose repudiates all judges. The Prophet therefore means, 
that the Chaldeans would be their own judges, so that the Jews or 
others would complain in vain for any wrongs done to them. "They 
shall be," he says, "their own judges, and shall execute judgement, 
for they will not accept any arbitrators." The word judgement, taken 
in a good sense, is put here for law (jus); as though he said, 
"Whatever the Chaldeans will claim for themselves, theirs shall it 
be; for no one will dare to interfere, and they will not submit to 
the will of others; but their power shall be for law, and their 
sword for a tribunal." We now understand the Prophet's meaning; and 
we must ever bear in mind what I have already said, - That God had 
no participation in these vices; but it was necessary that the 
stubbornness of an irreclaimable people should be thus corrected, or 
at least broken down. The Lord in the meantime could use such 
instruments in such a way as to preserve some moderation in his 
judgements. It follows - 
Habakkuk 1:8 
Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce 
than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, 
and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle 
[that] hasteth to eat. 
    The design of these figurative expressions is the same. The 
Prophet had spoken of the cruelty of those enemies whom the Jews 
despised: he now adds, that they would be so active as to surpass in 
velocity both leopards and eagles, or to be at least equal to them. 
He then says first, that their horses would be swifter then 
leopards. The Jews might have eluded his threatenings, or at least 
have cherished their insensibility by a vain confidence, as we see 
how this vice prevails in the world; for they might have thought 
thus within themselves, "The Chaldeans are far away, and the danger 
of which the Prophet speaks cannot be so near at hand." Hence he 
declares that their horses would be swifter than leopards. 
    He then adds, that they would be fiercer than the evening 
wolves. The wolf is a rapacious animal; and when he ranges about all 
the day in vain seeking what he may devour, then in the evening 
hunger kindles his rage. There is, therefore, nothing more dreadful 
than hungry wolves. But, as I have said, except they find some prey 
about the evening, they become the more furious. We shall meet with 
the same simile in Zeph. 3. We now see the drift of the Prophet's 
    He adds that their horsemen would be numerous. He now sets 
forth their power, lest the Jews should have recourse to vain hopes, 
because they might obtain some help either from the Egyptians or 
other neighbours. The Prophet shows that all such hopes would be 
wholly vain; for had they gathered auxiliaries from all quarters, 
still the Chaldeans would exceed them in power and number. 
    He afterwards says, that their horsemen would come from a 
distance. Though they should have a long journey, yet weariness 
would not hinder and delay them in coming from a remote part. The 
toil of travelling would not weaken them, until they reached Judea. 
How so? Because it will fly, he says, (he speaks throughout of the 
nation itself,) as an eagle hastening to devour. This metaphor is 
also most suitable to the present purpose; for it signifies, that 
wherever the Chaldeans saw a prey, they would instantly come, as an 
eagle to any carcass it may observe. Let the distance be what it 
may, as soon as it sees a prey, it takes a precipitate flight, and 
is soon present to devour; for the rapidity of eagles, as it is well 
known, is astonishing. 
    We now see that what we learn from the Prophet's words is 
substantially this, - that God's judgement ought to have been 
feared, because he purposed to employ the Chaldeans as his servants, 
whose cruel disposition and inhumanity would be dreadful: he also 
shows that the Chaldeans would be far superior in power and number; 
and in third place he makes it known, that they would possess an 
astonishing rapidity, and that though length of journey might be 
deemed a hindrance, they would yet be like eagles, which come like 
an arrow from heaven to earth, whenever a prey is observed by them. 
And eagles are not only rapid in their flight, but they possess also 
sharpness of sight; for we know that the eyes of eagles are 
remarkably keen and strong: and it is said that they cast away their 
young, if they find that they cannot look steadily at the sun; for 
they regard them as spurious. The Prophet then intimates that the 
Chaldeans would from a distance observe their prey: as the eagles, 
who are endued with incredible quickness of sight, see from mid air 
every carcass lying on the ground; so also would the Chaldeans 
quickly discover a prey, and come upon it in an instant. Let us 
Habakkuk 1:9 
They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up [as] the 
east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. 
    By saying that they would come to the prey, he means that they 
would have no trouble or labour, for they would be victorious before 
they had any contest, or had any war with their enemies. The meaning 
then is, that the Chaldeans would not come to spend much time in 
warfare, as when there is a strong power to resist; but that they 
would only come for the booty, for the Jews would be frightened, and 
instantly submit themselves. And by these words the Prophet 
intimates, that there would be neither strength nor courage in a 
people so refractory: for God thus debilitates the hearts of those 
who fiercely resist his word. Whenever, then, men become strong 
against God, he so melts their hearts, that they cannot resist their 
fellow-mortals; and thus he mocks their confidence, or rather their 
madness. Lest then the Jews should still harbour any hope from the 
chance of war, the Prophet says that the Chaldeans would only come 
for the prey, for all would become subject to them. 
    He afterwards adds, that the meeting of their faces would be 
like the oriental wind. The word "gamah" means what is opposite; and 
its derivative signifies meeting or opposition (occursus.) We indeed 
know that the east wind was very injurious to the land of Judea, 
that it dried up vegetation, yea, that it consumed as it were the 
whole produce of the earth. The violence of that wind was also very 
great. Hence whenever the Prophets wished to express a violent 
impetuosity, they added this comparison of the east wind. It was 
therefore the same as though the Prophet had said that the Jews 
would now in vain flatter themselves; for as soon as they perceived 
the blowing of the east wind, they would flee away, knowing that 
they would be wholly unable to stand against it. 
    Hence follows what is added by the Prophets, He shall gather 
the captivity like the sand; that is, the king of Babylon shall 
without any trouble subdue all the people, and collect captives 
innumerable as the sand; for by the sand of the sea is meant an 
immense number of men. In short, the Prophet shows that the Jews 
were already conquered; because their striving and their contest had 
been with God, whom they had so often and so obstinately provoked; 
and also, because God had chosen for himself such servants as 
excelled in quickness, and power, and cruelty. This is the sum of 
the whole. He afterwards adds - 
Habakkuk 1:10 
And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn 
unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap 
dust, and take it. 
    The Prophet concludes the subject which he has been hitherto 
pursuing. He says that the Chaldeans would not come to engage in a 
doubtful war, but only to triumph over conquered nations. We indeed 
know that the Jews, though not excelling either in number or in 
riches, were yet so proud, that they looked down, as it were, with 
contempt on other nations, and we also know, that they vainly 
trusted in vain helps; for as they were in confederacy with the 
Egyptians, they thought themselves to be beyond the reach of danger. 
Hence the Prophet says, that kings and princes would be only a sport 
to the Chaldeans, and their fortresses would be only a derision to 
them. How so? For they will gather dust, he says; that is, will make 
a mound of the dust of the earth, and will thus penetrate into all 
fortified cities. 
    In short the Prophet intended to cut off every hope from the 
Jews, that they might humble themselves before God; or he intended 
to take away every excuse if they repented not, as it indeed 
happened; for we know that they did not repent notwithstanding these 
warnings, until vengeance at length fully overtook them. He then 
adds - 
Habakkuk 1:11 
Then shall [his] mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, 
[imputing] this his power unto his god. 
    The Prophet now begins to give some comfort to the faithful, 
lest they should succumb under so grievous evils. He has hitherto 
directed his discourse to that irreclaimable people, but he now 
turns to the remnant; for there were always among them some of the 
faithful, though few, whom God never neglected; yea, for their sake 
often he sent his prophets; for though the multitude derived no 
benefit, yet the faithful understood that God did not threaten in 
vain, and were thus retained in his fear. This was the reason why 
the prophets were wont, after having spoken generally, to come down 
to the faithful, and as it were to comfort them apart and privately. 
And this difference ought to be noticed, as we have said elsewhere; 
for when the prophets denounce God's wrath, the discourse then is 
directed indiscriminately to the whole body of the people; but when 
they add promises, it is then as though they called the faithful to 
a private conference, and spake in their ear what had been committed 
to them by the Lord. The truth might have been useful to all, had 
they returned to a right mind; but as almost the whole people had 
hardened themselves in their vices, and as Satan had rendered stupid 
the minds and hearts of nearly all, it behaved the Prophet to have a 
special regard to the chosen of God. We now then apprehend his 
    And he says - now he will change his spirit. He bids the 
faithful to entertain hope, because the Chaldeans, after having 
poured forth all their fury, will be punished by the Lord for their 
arrogance, for it will be intolerable. This may indeed seem frigid 
to ungodly men; for what wonder is it that the Chaldeans, after 
having obtained so many victories, should grow haughty and exult in 
their success, as is commonly the case? But as this is a fixed 
principle with us, that men's pride becomes intolerable to God when 
they extremely exult and preserve no moderation - this is a very 
powerful argument - that is, that whosoever thus raises his horns 
shall suddenly be laid prostrate by the Lord. And Scripture also 
ever sets this before us, that God beats down supercilious pride, 
and does this that we may know that destruction is nigh all the 
ungodly, when they thus grow violently mad, and know not that they 
are mortals. It was then for this reason that the Prophet mentions 
what he says here; it was that the faithful might hope for some end 
to the violence of their enemies, for God would check their pride 
when they should transgress. But he says - then He will change his 
spirit; not that there was before any humility in the Chaldeans, but 
that success inebriated them, yea, and deprived them of all reason. 
And it is a common thing that a person who has fortune as it were in 
his hand, forgets himself, and thinks himself no longer a mortal. 
Great kings do indeed confess that they are men; but we see how 
madness lays hold on them; for, as I have said, being deluded by 
prosperity, they deem themselves to be nothing less than gods. 
    The Prophet refers here to the king of Babylon and all his 
people. He will change, he says, his spirit; that is, success will 
take away from him whatever reason and moderation he had. Now since 
the proud betray themselves and their disposition when fortune 
smiles on them, let us learn to form our judgement of men according 
to this experiment. If we would judge rightly of any man we must see 
how he bears good and bad fortune; for it may be that he who has 
borne adversity with a patient, calm and resigned mind, will 
disappoint us in prosperity, and will so elate himself as to be 
wholly another man. The Prophet then does not without reason speak 
of a change of spirit; for though the Chaldeans were before proud, 
they were not so extremely haughty as when their pride passed all 
bounds, after their many victories. He will change then his spirit; 
not that the Chaldeans were another kind of people, but that the 
Lord thus discovered their madness which was before hid. 
    He then adds - he will pass over. The Prophet intended to 
express that when the Lord suffered the Chaldeans to rule far and 
wide, a way was thus opened for his judgements, which is far 
different from the judgement of the flesh. For the more power men 
acquire the more boldness they assume; and it seemed to tend to the 
establishing of their power that they knew how to use their success. 
But the Lord, as I have said, was secretly preparing a way to 
destroy them, when they thus became proud and passed all bounds; 
hence the Prophet does not simply condemn the haughtiness and pride 
of the Chaldeans, but shows that a way is already open, as it were, 
for God's judgement, that he might destroy them, inasmuch as they 
would render themselves intolerable. 
    He afterwards adds - and shall act impiously. The verb "asham" 
I refer to the end of the verse - where he ascribes his power to his 
own god. And the Prophet adds this explanation, in order that the 
Jews might know what kind of sin would be the sin of the king of 
Babylon. He then charges him with sacrilege, because he would think 
that he had become the conqueror of Judea through the kindness of 
his idol, so that he would make nothing of the power and glory of 
the true God. Since then the Babylonian would transfer God's glory 
to his own idol, his own ruin would be thus made ripe; for the Lord 
would undertake his own cause, and execute vengeance on such a 
sacrilege; for he speaks here no doubt of the Babylonian, and 
according to his view, when he says - 
    This his strength is that of his god; but were any inclined to 
explain this of the true God, as some do, he would make a harsh and 
a forced construction; for the Babylonians did not worship the true 
God, but were devoted, as it is well known, to their own 
superstitions. The Prophet then no doubt makes known here to the 
faithful the pride with which the Babylonians would become elated, 
and thus provoke God's wrath against themselves; and also the 
sacrilegious boasting in which they would indulge, ascribing the 
victories given them to their own idols, which could not be done 
without daring reproach to the true God. It now follows - 
Habakkuk 1:12 
[Art] thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we 
shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgement; and, O 
mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. 
    The Prophet now exulting, according to what all the faithful 
feel, shows the effect of what he has just mentioned; for as ungodly 
men wantonly rise up against God, and, while Satan renders them 
insane, throw out swelling words of vanity, as though they could by 
speaking confound earth and heaven; so also the faithful derive a 
holy confidence from God's word, and set themselves against them, 
and overcome their ferocity by the magnanimity and firmness of their 
own minds, so that they can intrepidly boast that they are happy and 
blessed even in the greatest miseries. 
    This then is what the prophet means when he adds - Art not thou 
our God? The question is much more emphatical than if he had simply 
declared that the true God was worshipped in Judea, and would 
therefore be the protector of that nation; for when the Prophet puts 
a question, he means, according to what is commonly understood in 
Hebrew, that the thing admits of no doubt. "What! art not thou our 
God?" We hence see that there is a contrast between the wicked and 
impious boastings in which the profane indulge, and the holy 
confidence which the faithful have, who exult in their God. But that 
the discourse is addressed to God rather than to the ungodly is not 
done without reason, for it would have been useless to contend with 
the wicked. This is indeed sometimes necessary, for when the 
reprobate openly reproach God we cannot restrain ourselves; nor is 
it right that we refrain from testifying that we regard all their 
slanders as of no account; but we cannot so courageously oppose 
their audacity as when we have the matter first settled between us 
and God, and be able to say with the Prophets - "Thou art our God." 
Whosoever then would boldly contend with the ungodly must first have 
to do with God, and confirm and ratify as it were that compact which 
God has proposed to us, even that we are his people, and that he in 
his turn will be always our God. As then God thus covenants with us, 
our faith must be really made firm, and then let us go forth and 
contend against all the ungodly. This is the order which the Prophet 
observes here, and what is to be observed by us - Art not thou our 
    He also adds - long since, "mikedem", by which word the Prophet 
invites the attention of the faithful to the covenant which God had 
made, not yesterday nor the day before that, with his people, but 
many ages before, even 400 years before he redeemed their fathers 
from Egypt. Since then the favour of God to the Jews had been 
confirmed for so long a time, it is not without reason that the 
Prophet says here - Thou art our God from the beginning; that is, 
"the religion which we embrace has been delivered to us by thy 
hands, and we know that thou art its author; for our faith recumbs 
not on the opinion of men, but is sustained by thy word. Since, 
then, we have found so often and in so many ways, and for so many 
years, that thou art our God, there is now no room for doubt." 
    He then subjoins - we shall not die. What the Jews say of this 
place, that it had been corrected by the scribes, seems not to me 
probable; for the reason they give is very frivolous. They suppose 
that it was written "lo tamut", Thou diest not, and that the letter 
"nun" had been introduced, "we shall not die," because the 
expression offended those scribes, as though the Prophet compared 
God to men, and ascribed to him a precarious immortality; but they 
would have been very foolish critics. I therefore think that the 
word was written by the Prophet as we now read it, Thou art our God, 
we shall not die. Some explain this as a prayer - "let us not die;" 
and the future is often taken in this sense in Hebrew; but this 
exposition is not suitable to the present passage; for the Prophet, 
as I have already said, rises up here as a conqueror, and disperses 
as mists all those foolish boastings of which he had been speaking, 
as though he said - "we shall not die, for we are under the 
protection of God." 
    I have already explained why he turns his discourse to God: but 
this is yet the conclusion of the argument, - that as God had 
adopted that people, and received them into favour, and testified 
that he would be their defender, the Prophet confidently draws this 
inference, - that this people cannot perish, for they are preserved 
by God. No power of the world, nor any of its defences, can indeed 
afford us this security; for whatever forces may all mortals bring 
either to protect or help us, they shall all perish together with 
us. Hence, the protection of God alone is that which can deliver us 
from the danger of death. We now perceive why the Prophet joins 
together these two things, "Thou art our God," and "We shall not 
die;" nor can indeed the one be separated from the other; for when 
we are under the protection of God, we must necessarily continue 
safe and safe for ever; not that we shall be free from evils, but 
that the Lord will deliver us from thousand deaths, and ever 
preserve our life in safety. When only he affords us a taste of 
eternal salvation, some spark of life will ever continue in our 
hearts, until he shows to us, when at length redeemed, as I have 
already said, from thousand deaths, the perfection of that blessed 
life, which is now promised to us, but as yet is looked for, and 
therefore hid under the custody of hope. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou settest around us so many 
terrors, we may know that we ought to be roused, and to resist the 
sloth and tardiness of our flesh, so that thou mayest fortify us by 
a different confidence: and may we so recomb on thine aid, that we 
may boldly triumph over our enemies, and never doubt, but that thou 
wilt at length give us the victory over all the assaults of Satan 
and of the wicked; and may we also so look to thee, that our faith 
may wholly rest on that eternal and immutable covenant, which has 
been confirmed for us by the blood of thy only Son, until we shall 
at length be united to him who is our head, after having passed 
through all the miseries of the present life, and having been 
gathered into that eternal inheritance, which thy Son has purchased 
for us by his own blood. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 3...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-02.txt