(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 3)
... Continued from Part 2

Lecture One hundred and Eighth. 
    We began yesterday to explain the words of the Prophet, by 
which he encouraged himself and the faithful, and obtained support 
under circumstances bordering on despair; for he turned to God, when 
he saw the wicked, not only elated with prosperity, but also pouring 
forth blasphemies against the living God. The Prophet then says, 
that those who are under God's protection shall not perish. Of this 
he felt assured within himself. The declaration, as I have said, is 
much more striking, as the Prophet turns all his thoughts towards 
God, than if he had publicly and loudly declared what he testified, 
as it were, in a private conference. 
    But it was not without reason that he said, "Thou, my God, my 
holy one;" as though he had said, "I trust in thee, inasmuch as I am 
one of thy chosen people." He does not indeed speak here in his own 
private name, but includes with himself the whole Church; for this 
privilege belonged to all the children of Abraham, as they had been 
set apart by the gratuitous adoption of God, and were a royal 
priesthood. This is the reason why the Prophet says, Thou, my God, 
my holy one. For the Jews were wont thus to call God, because they 
had been chosen from the rest of the world. And their holiness was, 
that God had deigned to take them as his people, having rejected 
others, while yet there was by nature no difference between them. 
    There is, moreover, much weight in the words which follow, 
Jehovah! for judgement has thou set him. This temptation ever occurs 
to us, whenever we strive to put our trust in God - What does this 
mean? for God now forsakes us, and exposes us to the caprice of the 
wicked they are allowed to do what they please, and God interferes 
not. How, then, can we cherish hope under these perplexities?" The 
Prophet now sets up a shield against this temptations - "Thou," he 
says, "hast appointed him for judgement." For he ascribes it to 
God's providence, that the Assyrians had with so much wantonness 
wasted the land, or would waste it when they came; for he speaks of 
things yet future - "Thou," he says, "hast appointed him for 
    This is a truth much needed: for Satan darkens, as with clouds, 
the favour of God, when any adversity happens to us, and when God 
himself thus proves our faith. But adversities are as it were 
clouds, excluding us from seeing God's fervour, as the light of the 
sun appears not to us when the sky is darkened. If, indeed, the mass 
of evils be so great and so thick, that our minds are overwhelmed, 
they are not clouds, but the thick darkness of night. In that case 
our faith cannot stand firm, except the providence of God comes to 
our view, so that we may know, in the midst of such confusion, why 
he permits so much liberty to the wicked, and also how their 
attempts may turn out, and what may be the issue. Except then we be 
fully persuaded, that God by his secret providence regulates all 
these confusions, Satan will a hundred times a day, yea every 
moment, shake that confidence which ought to repose in God. We now 
see how opportunely the Prophet adds this clause. He had said, "Art 
not thou our God? we shall not die." He now subjoins this by way of 
anticipation, "The Assyrians indeed do lay waste thy land as with an 
unbridled wantonness, they plunder thy people, and with impunity 
slay the innocent; but, O Lord, this is not done but by thy 
permission: Thou overrules all these confused proceedings, nor is 
all this done by thee without a cause. Thou, Jehovah, hast for 
judgement appointed him. - Judgement is to be taken for 
    But the Prophet repeats the same thing, and, being strong, thou 
hast for correction established him. Some render "tsor" strong, in 
the accusative case, and give a twofold explanation. One party apply 
the term to the Jews, who were to be subdued by hard means, since 
they were so refractory; and hence they think that the Jews are 
called strong, because they were like stones. Others give this 
meaning, Thou hast made him strong to correct; that is, Thou hast 
given him strength, by which he will chastise us. But as this is one 
of God's titles, I doubt not but that the two clauses correspond. He 
now, then, gives this name to God. Having given him his name as an 
eternal God, Thou, Jehovah, &c.; he now calls him strong. He puts 
"tsor" to correspond with Jehovah; and then to correct, to 
correspond with judgement. We hence see how well the whole context 
agrees, and how the words answer, the one to the other. Then it is, 
Thou, strong one, hast established him to correct. But why does the 
Prophet call him strong? though this title, as I have said, is 
commonly ascribed to God, yet the Prophet, I have no doubt, had 
regard to the circumstances at the time. It is indeed difficult to 
retain this truth, - that the world is ruled by the secret counsel 
of God, when things are turned upside down: for the profane then 
glamour against God, and charge him with listlessness; and others 
cry out, that all things are thus changed fortuitously and at 
random; and hence they call fortune blind. It is then difficult, as 
I have said, to retain a fast hold on this truth. The Prophet, 
therefore, in order to support his own weakness, sets before himself 
this title of God, Thou, the strong God, or the rock, &c.; for 
"tsor" means properly a rock, but it is to be taken here for God of 
strength. Why? "Behold, we indeed see revolutions, which not only 
make our faith to totter, but also dissipate as it were all our 
thoughts: but how much soever the world revolve in confusion, yet 
God is a rock; His purpose fails not, nor wavers; but remains ever 
firm." We now then see why the Prophet calls God strong. 
    "Thou the strong one," he says, "hast established him." He 
expresses more by the word established, than in the first clause: 
for he prepared himself with firmness against continued evils, in 
case God (as it might be easily conjectured) would not give 
immediate relief to his people, but add calamities to calamities. 
Should God then join evils to evils, the Prophet prepares himself 
for perseverance; "Thou," he says, "the strong one hast established 
him;" that is, "Though the Assyrian should not only like a whirlwind 
or a violent tempest rush upon us, but also continue to oppress us, 
as though he were a pestilence attached to the land, or some fixed 
mountain, yet thou, Lord, hast established him." For what purpose? 
to correct. But the Prophet could not have said this, had he not 
known that God justly chastised his people. Not only for his own 
sake did he say this; but he intended also, by his own example, to 
lead the faithful to make the same holy and pious confession. 
    The two clauses of this sentence then are these, that though 
the Assyrian would rage with unbridled wantonness, like a cruel wild 
beast, he would yet be restrained by the hidden power of God, to 
whom it peculiarly belongs to overrule by his secret providence the 
confusions of this world. This is one thing. The Prophet also 
ascribes justice to God's power, and thus confesses his own guilt 
and that of the people; for the Lord would justly use so severe a 
scourge, because the people needed such a correction. Let us now go 
on - 
Habakkuk 1:13 
[Thou art] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on 
iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, 
[and] holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth [the man that is] 
more righteous than he? 
    The Prophet here expostulates with God, not as at the beginning 
of the chapter; for he does not here, with a holy and calm mind, 
undertake the defence of God's glory, but complains of injuries, as 
men do when oppressed, who go to the judge and implore his 
protection. This complaint, then, is to be distinguished from the 
former one; for at the beginning of the chapter the Prophet did not 
plead his own cause or that of the people; but zeal for God's glory 
roused him, so that he in a manner asked God to take vengeance on so 
great an obstinacy in wickedness; but he now comes down and 
expresses the feelings of men; for he speaks of the thoughts and 
sorrows of those who had suffered injuries under the tyranny of 
their enemies. 
    And he says, O God, thou art pure in eyes, thou lookest not on 
evil. Some render the verb "tahor" in the imperative mood, clear the 
eyes; but they are mistaken; for the verse contains two parts, the 
one contrary to the other. The Prophet reasons from the nature of 
God, and then he states what is of an opposite character. Thou, God, 
he says, art pure in eyes; hence thou canst not look on evil; it is 
not consistent with thy nature to pass by the vices of men, for 
every iniquity is hateful to thee. Thus the Prophet sets before 
himself the nature of God. Then he adds, that experience is opposed 
to this; for the wicked, he says, exult; and while they miserably 
oppress the innocent, no one affords any help. How is this, except 
that God sleeps in heaven, and neglects the affairs of men? We now 
then understand the Prophet's meaning in this verse. 
    By saying that God is pure in eyes, he assumes what ought to be 
deemed certain and indubitable by all men of piety. But as God's 
justice does not always appear, the Prophet has a struggle; and he 
shows that he in a manner vacillated, for he did not see in the 
state of things before him what yet his piety dictated to him, that 
is, that God was just and upright. It is indeed true, that the 
second part of the verse borders on blasphemy: for though the 
Prophet ever thought honourably and reverently of God, yet he 
murmurs here, and indirectly charges God with too much tardiness, as 
he connived at things, while he saw the just shamefully oppressed by 
the wicked. But we must notice the order which the Prophet keeps. 
For by saying that God is pure in eyes, he no doubt restrains 
himself. As there was danger lest this temptation should carry him 
too far, he meets it in time, and includes himself, in a manner, 
within this boundary - that we ought to retain a full conviction of 
God's justice. The same order is observed by Jeremiah when he says, 
'I know, Lord, that thou art just, but how is it that the ungodly do 
thus pervert all equity? and thou either takest no notice, or dost 
not apply any remedy. I would therefore freely contend with thee.' 
The Prophet does not immediately break out into such an expression 
as this, "O Lord, I will contend with thee in judgement:" but before 
he mentions his complaint, knowing that his feelings were strongly 
excited, he makes a kind of preface, and in a manner restrains 
himself, that he might check that extreme ardour which might have 
otherwise carried him beyond due bounds; "Thou art just, O Lord," he 
says. In a similar manner does our prophet speak here, Thou art pure 
in eyes, so as not to behold evil; and thou canst not look on 
    Since, he says, thou canst not look on trouble, we find that he 
confirms himself in that truth - that the justice of God cannot be 
separated from his very nature: and by saying, "lo tuchal", "thou 
canst not," it is the same as though he had said, "Thou, O Lord, art 
just, because thou art God; and God, because thou art just." For 
these two things cannot be separated, as both the eternity, and the 
very being of God, cannot stand without his justice. We hence see 
how strenuously the Prophet struggled against his own impetuosity, 
so that he might not too much indulge himself in the complaint, 
which immediately follows. 
    For he then asks, according to the common judgement of the 
flesh, Why dost thou look on, when the ungodly devours one more just 
than himself? The Prophet here does not divest God of his power, but 
speaks in doubt, and contends not so much with God as with himself. 
A profane man would have said, "There is no God, there is no 
providence," or, "He cares not for the world, he takes his pleasure 
in heaven." But the Prophet says, "Thou seest, Lord." Hence he 
ascribes to God what peculiarly belongs to him - that he does not 
neglect the world which he has created. At the same time he here 
inclines two ways, and alternates; Why does thou look on, when the 
ungodly devours one more just than himself? He says not that the 
world revolves by chance, nor that God takes his delight and ease in 
heaven, as the Epicureans hold; but he confesses that the world is 
seen by God, and that he exercises care over the affairs of men: 
notwithstanding, as he could not see his way clear in a state of 
things so confused, he argues the point rather with himself than 
with God. We now see the import of this sentence. The Prophet, 
however, proceeds - 
Habakkuk 1:14,15 
And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, 
[that have] no ruler over them? 
They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their 
net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are 
    He goes on, as it has been said, in his complaint; and by a 
comparison he shows that the judgement would be such as though God 
turned away from men, so as not to check the violence of the wicked, 
nor oppose his hand to their wantonness, in order to restrain them. 
Since, then, every one would oppress another as he exceeded him in 
power, and would with increased insolence rise up against the 
miserable and the poor, the Prophet compares man to the fish of the 
sea, - "What can this mean?" he says. "For men have been created 
after God's image: why then does not some justice appear among them? 
When one devours another, and even one man oppresses almost the 
whole world, what can be the meaning of this? God seems to sport 
with human affairs. For if he regards men as his children, why does 
he not defend them by his power? But we see one man (for he speaks 
of the Assyrian king) so enraged and so cruel, as though the rest of 
the world were like fish or reptiles." Thou makes men, he says, like 
reptiles or ashes; and then he adds, He draws up the whole by his 
hook, he collects them into his drag, he gathers then into his net, 
he exults. 
    We now see what the Prophet means - that God would, as it were, 
close his eyes, while the Assyrians wantonly laid waste the whole 
world: and when this tyranny should reach the holy land, what else 
could the faithful think but that they were forsaken by God? And 
there is nothing, as I have already said, more monstrous, than that 
iniquitous tyranny should thus prevail among men; for they have all, 
from the least to the greatest, been created after God's image. God 
then ought to exercise peculiar care in preserving mankind; his 
paternal love and solicitude ought in this respect to appear 
evident: but when men are thus destroyed with impunity, and one 
oppresses almost all the rest, there seems indeed to be no divine 
providence. For how will it be that he will care for either birds, 
or oxen, or asses, or trees, or plants, when he will thus forsake 
men, and bring no aid in so confused a state? We now understand the 
drift of what the Prophet says. 
    But yet he does not, as I have already said, take away from God 
his power, nor does he here rail against fortune, as many cavillers 
do. Thou makest men, he says: he ascribes to God what cannot be 
taken from him, - that he governs the world. But as to God's 
justice, he hesitates, and appeals to God. Though the Prophet seems 
here to rush headlong like insane men; yet if we consider all 
things, we shall see that he strenuously contended with his 
temptations, and even in these words some sparks at least of faith 
will shine forth, which are sufficient to show to us the great 
firmness of the Prophet. For this especially is worthy of being 
noticed, - that the Prophet turns himself to God. The Epicureans, 
when they glamour against God, for the most part, seek the ear of 
the multitude; and so they speak evil of God and withdraw themselves 
at a distance from him; for they do not think that he exercises any 
care over the world. But the Prophet continually addresses God. He 
knew then that God was the governor of all things. He also desires 
to be extricated from thoughts so thorny and perplexing; and from 
whom does he seek relief? From God himself. When the profane 
wantonly deride God, they indulge themselves, and seek nothing else 
but to become hardened in their own impious conjectures: but the 
Prophet comes to God himself, "How does this happen, O Lord?" As 
though he had said, 
    "Thou sees how I am distracted, and also held fast bound - 
distracted by many absurd thoughts, so that I am almost confounded, 
and held fast bound by great perplexities, from which I cannot 
extricate myself. Do thou, O Lord, unfold to me these knots, and 
concentrate my scattered thoughts, that I may understand what is 
true, and what I am to believe; and especially remove from me this 
doubt, lest it should shake my faith; O Lord, grant that I may at 
length know and fully understand how thou art just, and overrules, 
consistently with perfect equity, those things which seem to be so 
    It also happens sometimes that the ungodly, as it were, openly 
revile God, a satanic rage having taken possession on them. But the 
case was far different with the Prophet; for finding himself 
overwhelmed and his mind not able to sustain him under so heavy 
trials, he sought relief, and as we have said, applied to God 
    By saying, He therefore rejoices add exults, he increases the 
indignity; for though the Lord may for a time permit the wicked to 
oppress the innocent, yet when he finds them glorying in their vices 
and triumphing, so great a wantonness ought the more to kindle his 
vengeance. That the Lord then should still withhold himself, seems 
indeed very strange. But the Prophet proceeds - 
Habakkuk 1:16 
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their 
drag; because by them their portion [is] fat, and their meat 
    The Prophet confirms the closing sentence of the last verse; 
for he explains what that joy was of which he had spoken, even the 
joy by which the wicked, as it were, designedly provoke God against 
themselves. It is indeed an abominable thing when the ungodly take 
delight in their vices; but it is still more atrocious when they 
deride God himself. Such, then, is the account now added by the 
Prophet, as though he had said, "Not only do the ungodly felicitate 
themselves while thou sparest them, or for a time bearest with them; 
but they now rise up against thee and deride all thy majesty, and 
openly blaspheme against heaven itself; for they sacrifice to their 
own net, and offer incense to their drag." By this metaphor the 
Prophet intimates, that the wicked do not only become hardened when 
they succeed in their vices, but that they also ascribe to 
themselves the praise of justice; for they consider that to be 
rightly done which has been attended with success. They thus 
dethrone God, and put themselves in his place. We now then see the 
Prophet's meaning. 
    But this passage discovers to us the secret impiety of all 
those who do not serve God sincerely and with an honest mind. There 
is indeed imprinted on the hearts of men a certain conviction 
respecting the existence of a God; for none are so barbarous as not 
to have some sense of religion: and thus all are rendered 
inexcusable, as they carry in their hearts a law which is sufficient 
to make them a thousand times guilty. But at the same time the 
ungodly, and those who are not illuminated by faith, bury this 
knowledge, for they are enveloped in themselves: and when some 
recollection of God creeps in, they are at first impressed, and 
ascribe some honour to him; but this is evanescent, for they soon 
suppress it as much as they can; yea they even strive to extinguish 
(though they cannot) this knowledge and whatever light they have 
from heaven. This is what the Prophet now graphically sets forth in 
the person of the Assyrian king. He had before said, "This power is 
that of his God." He had complained that the Assyrians would give to 
their idols what was peculiar to God alone, and thus deprive him of 
his right: but he says now, that they would sacrifice to their own 
drag, and offer incense to their net. This is a very different 
thing: for how could they sacrifice to their idols, if they ascribed 
to their drag whatever victories they had gained? Now, by the words 
drag and net, the Prophet means their efforts, strength, forces, 
power, counsels, and policies as they call them, and whatever else 
there be which profane men arrogate to themselves. But what is it to 
sacrifice to their own net? The Assyrian did this, because he 
thought that he surpassed all others in craftiness, because he 
thought himself so courageous as not to hesitate to make war with 
all nations, regarding himself well prepared with forces and 
justified in his proceedings; and because he became successful and 
omitted nothing calculated to ensure victory. Thus the Assyrian, as 
I have said, regarded as nothing his idols; for he put himself in 
the place of all the gods. But if it be asked whence came his 
success, we must answer, that the Assyrian ought to have ascribed it 
all to the one true God: but he thought that he prospered through 
his own velour. If we refer to counsel, it is certain that God is he 
who governs the counsels and minds of men; but the Assyrian thought 
that he gained everything by his own skill. If, again, we speak of 
strength, whence was it? and of courage, whence was it, but from 
God? but the Assyrian appropriated all these things to himself. What 
regard, then, had he for God? We see how he now takes away all 
honour even from his own idols, and attributes everything to 
    But this sin, as I have already said, belongs to all the 
ungodly; for where God's Spirit does not reign, there is no 
humility, and men ever swell with inward pride, until God thoroughly 
cleanse them. It is then necessary that God should empty us by his 
special grace, that we may not be filled with this satanic pride, 
which is innate, and which cannot by any means be shaken off by us, 
until the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit. And this may be seen es 
specially in all the kings of this world. They indeed confess that 
kings rule through God's grace; and then when they gain any victory, 
supplications are made, vows are paid. But were any one to say to 
those conquerors, "God had mercy on you," the answer would be, 
"What! was then my preparation nothing? did I not provide many 
things beforehand? did I not attain the friendship of many? did I 
not form confederacies? did I not foresee such and such 
disadvantages? did I not opportunely provide a remedy?" In a word, 
they sacrifice apparently to God, but afterwards they have a regard 
mainly to their drag and their net, and make nothing of God. Well 
would it be were these things not so evident. But since the Spirit 
of God sets before us a lively image of the fact, let us learn what 
true humility is, and that we then only have this, when we think 
that we are nothing, and can do nothing, and that it is God alone 
who not only supports and continues us in life, but also governs us 
by his Spirit, and that it is he who sustains our hearts, gives 
courage, and then blesses us, so as to render prosperous what we may 
undertake. Let us hence learn that God cannot be really glorified, 
except when men wholly empty themselves. 
    He then adds, because in (or by) them is his fat portion and 
his rich meat. Though some render "beri'ah" choice meat, and others, 
fat meat, I yet prefer the meaning of rich: His meat then will be 
rich. The Prophet intimates here that men are so blinded by 
prosperity that they sacrifice to themselves, and hence the more 
deserving of reproof is their ingratitude; for the more liberally 
God deals with us the more reason, no doubt, there is why we ought 
to glorify him. But when men, well supplied and fully satisfied, 
thus swell with pride and sacrifice to themselves, is not their 
impiety in this manner more completely discovered? But the Prophet 
not only proves that the Assyrians abused God's bounty, but he shows 
in their person what is the disposition of the whole world. For when 
men accumulate great wealth, and pile up a great heap from the 
property of others, they become more and more blinded. We hence see 
that we ought justly to fear the evil of prosperity, lest our 
fatness should so increase that we can see nothing; for the eyes are 
dimmed by excessive fatness. Let this then be ever remembered by us. 
The Prophet then concludes his discourse: but as one verse of the 
first chapter only remains, I shall briefly notice it. 
Habakkuk 1:17 
Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to 
slay the nations? 
    This is an affirmative question, "Shall they therefore;" which, 
however, requires a negative answer. Then all interpreters are 
mistaken; for they think that the Prophet here complains, that he 
presently extends his net after having made a capture, but he rather 
means, "Is he ever to extend his net?" that is, "How long, O Lord, 
wilt thou permit the Assyrians to proceed to new plunders, so as to 
be like the hunter, who after having taken a boar or a stag, is more 
eager, and immediately renews his hunting; or like the fisherman, 
who having filled his little ship, with more avidity pursues his 
vocation? Wilt thou, Lord, he says, suffer the Assyrians to become 
more assiduous in their work of destruction?" And he shows how 
unworthy they were of God's forbearance, for they slew the nations. 
"I speak not here," he says, "either of fish or of any other animal, 
nor do I speak of this or that man, but I speak of many nations. As 
these slaughters are thus carried on through the whole world, how 
long, Lord, shall they be unpunished? for they will never cease." We 
now see the purport of the Prophet's complaint; but we shall find in 
the next lecture how he recovers himself. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as it cannot be but that, owing to the 
infirmity of our flesh, we must be shaken and tossed here and there 
by the many turbulent commotions of this world, - O grant, that our 
faith may be sustained by this support - that thou art the governor 
of the world, and that men were not only once created by thee, but 
are also preserved by thy hand, and that thou art also a just judge, 
so that we may duly restrain ourselves; and though we must often 
have to bear many insults, let us yet never fail, until our faith 
shall become victorious over all trials, and until we, having passed 
through continued succession of contests, shall at length reach that 
celestial rest, which Christ thy Son has obtained for us. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 4...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-03.txt