(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 6)
... Continued from Part 5

Lecture One Hundred and Eleventh. 
    We yesterday compared this passage of Habakkuk with the 
interpretation of Paul, who draws this inference, that we are 
justified by faith without the works of the law, because the Prophet 
teaches us that we are to live by faith, for the way of life and of 
righteousness is the same, inasmuch as life is not to be otherwise 
sought by us than through the paternal favour of God. This then is 
our life - to be united to God; but this union with God cannot be 
hoped for by us while he imputes sins to us; for as he is just and 
cannot deny himself, iniquity must be ever hated by him. Then as 
long as he regards us as sinners, he must necessarily hold us as 
hateful to him. Where the hatred of God is, there is death and ruin. 
It then follows, that we can have no hope of life until we be 
reconciled to God, and there is no other way by which God can 
restore us to favour, but by regarding and counting us as just. It 
hence follows, that Paul reasons correctly, when he leads us from 
life to righteousness; for they are two things which are connected 
and inseparable. 
    Hence the error of the Papists comes to light, who think that 
to be justified is nothing else but to be renewed in righteousness, 
in order that we may lead a pious and a holy life. Hence their 
righteousness is a quality. But Paul's view is very different, for 
he connects our justification and salvation together, inasmuch as 
God cannot be propitious to us without being reconciled to us. And 
how is this done even by not imputing to us our sins. Hence they 
speak correctly and truly express what the Holy Spirit everywhere 
teaches us, who call it imputative righteousness, for they thus show 
that it is not a quality, but, on the contrary, a relative 
righteousness, and therefore we said yesterday that he who lives by 
faith derives life from another, and that every one who is just by 
faith, is just through what is not in himself, even through the 
gratuitous mercy of God. 
    We now then see how suitably Paul joins righteousness with 
life, and adduces the Prophet's testimony to prove gratuitous 
justification, who affirms that we are to live by faith. But it is 
no wonder that the Papists go in so many ways astray in this 
instance, for they even differ with us in the meaning of the word 
faith. Hence it is that they so obstinately deny that we are 
justified by faith alone. They are forced, as we have said 
yesterday, to admit the righteousness of faith; but the exclusive 
particle they cannot endure; for they imagine that it is a moulded 
faith that justifies, and this moulded or formed faith is piety, or 
the fear of God. And by calling faith unformed they seem to think 
that we can embrace the promises of God without the fruit of 
regeneration, which is very absurd, as though faith were not the 
peculiar gift of the Spirit, and a pledge of our adoption. But these 
are principles of which the Papists are wholly ignorant; for they 
are given up to a reprobate mind, so that they stumble at the very 
first elements of religion. 
    But it is sufficient for us, in order to understand this 
passage, to know that we live by faith; for our life is a shadow or 
a passing cloud; and hence our only remedy is to seek life from God 
alone. And how does God communicate this life to us? even by 
gratuitous promises which we embrace by faith; hence salvation is by 
faith. Now, salvation cannot be ascribed to faith and to works too; 
for faith refers the praise for life and salvation to God alone, and 
works show that something is due to man. Faith, then, as to 
justification, entirely excludes all works, so that they come to no 
account before God; and hence I have said that salvation is by 
faith; for we are accepted of God by gratuitous remission of sins. 
The union of God with us is true and real salvation; but no one can 
be united to God without righteousness, and there is found in us no 
righteousness; hence God himself freely imputes it to us; and as we 
are justified freely, so our salvation is said to be gratuitous. 
    I will not now repeat what may be said of justification by 
faith; for it is better to proceed with the Prophet's subject, only 
it may be necessary to add two things to what has been said. The 
Prophet testified to the men of his age that salvation is by faith; 
it then follows that they had regard to Christ; for without relying 
on a mediator they could not have trusted in God. For as our 
righteousness is said to be the remission of sins, so a sacrifice 
must necessarily intervene, by which God is pacified, so as not to 
impute our sins. They had indeed their sacrifices according to the 
law; but these were to direct their minds to Christ; for they were 
by no means acceptable to God, except through that Mediator on whom 
our faith at this day is founded. There is also another thing: the 
Prophet, by distinctly expressing that the just live by faith, 
clearly shows, that through the whole course of this life we cannot 
be deemed just in any other way than by a gratuitous imputation. He 
does not say that the children of Adam, born in a state exposed to 
eternal death, do recover life by faith; but that the just, who are 
now endued with the true fear of God, live by faith; and thus 
refuted is the romance about initial justification. Let us now then 
proceed - 
Habakkuk 2:5 
Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, [he is] a proud man, 
neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and [is] 
as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all 
nations, and heapeth unto him all people: 
    The Prophet has taught us that a tranquil state of mind cannot 
be otherwise had than by recumbing on the grace of God alone; and 
that they who elate themselves, and fly in the air, and feed on the 
wind, procure for themselves many sorrows and inquietudes. But he 
now comes to the king of Babylon, and also to his kingdom; for in my 
judgement he speaks not only of the king, but includes also that 
tyrannical empire with its people, and represents them as a great 
company of robbers. He then says in short, that though the 
Babylonians, like drunken men, hurried here and there without any 
control, yet God's vengeance, by which they were to be brought to 
nothing, was nigh at hand. What ever therefore the Prophet subjoins 
to the end of the chapter tends to confirm his doctrine, which we 
have already explained - that the just shall live by faith. We 
cannot indeed be fully convinced of this except we hold firmly this 
principle - that God cares for us, and that the whole world is 
governed by his providence; so that it cannot be but that he will at 
length check the wicked, and punish their sins, and deliver the 
innocent who call upon him. Unless this be our conviction, there can 
be no benefit derived from our faith; we might indeed be a hundred 
times deceived; for experience teaches us that the hopes of men, as 
long as they are fixed on the earth, are vain and delusive, as they 
are only mere imaginations. Except then God governs the world there 
is no salvation to the faithful; for God in that case would delude 
them with vain promises, and they would flatter themselves with an 
empty prospect, or hope for that which is not. Hence the Prophet 
shows how it is that the just shall live by faith; and that is 
because the Lord will defend all who call upon him, and that 
inasmuch as he is the just Judge of all the world, he will finally 
execute judgement on all the wicked, though for a time they act 
wantonly, and think that they shall escape punishment, because God 
does not execute upon them immediate vengeance. We now perceive the 
design of the Prophet. 
    As to the words, these two particles, "aph ki", when joined 
together, amplify the meaning; and some render them - "how much 
more;" others take them as a simple affirmative, and render them 
"truly." I approve of a middle course, and render them "yea, truly;" 
(etiam certe;) and they are so taken as I think, in Gen. 3: 1, Satan 
thus asked the woman - yea, truly! Est-ce pour vrai? for the 
question is that of one doubting, and yet it refers to what is 
certain, - "How comes it that God should interdict the eating of the 
fruit? yea, is it so truly? can it be so? So it is in this place, 
yea, truly, says the Prophet. That it is an amplification may be 
gathered from the context. He had said before that they who elevate 
themselves, or seem to themselves to be well fortified, are fearful 
in their minds, and driven backwards and forwards. He now advances 
another step - that when men are borne along by unrestrained 
wantonness, and promise themselves all things, as though there was 
no God, they surpass even the drunken, being hurried on by blind 
cupidity. When therefore men thus abandon themselves, can they 
escape the judgement of God? Far less bearable is such a madness 
than that simple arrogance of which he had spoken in the last verse. 
Thus then are the two verses connected together, - "Yea, truly, he 
who in his pride is like a drunken man, and restrains not himself, 
and who is even like to wild beasts or to the grave, devouring 
whatever meets them - he surely will not at length be endured by 
God." Vengeance, then, is nigh to all the proud, who are cruelly 
furious, passing all bounds and without any fear. 
    But interpreters differ as to the import of the words which 
follow. Some render "boged" to deceive, and it means so in some 
places; and they render the clause thus - "Wine deceives a proud 
man, and he will not dwell." This is indeed true, but the meaning is 
strained; I therefore prefer to follow the commonly received 
interpretation - that the proud man transgresses as it were through 
wine. At the same time I do not agree with others as to the 
expression "transgressing as through wine." Some give this version - 
"Man addicted to wine or to drunkenness transgresses;" and then they 
add - "a proud man will not inhabit;" but they pervert the sentence, 
and mangle the words of the Prophet; for his words are - By wine 
transgressing the proud man: he does not say that a man addicted to 
wine transgresses; but he compares the proud to drunken men, who, 
forgetting all reason and shame, abandon themselves unto all that is 
disgraceful; for the drunken distinguishes nothing, and becomes like 
a brute animal, so that he shuns nothing that is base and 
unbecoming. This is the reason why the Prophet compares proud men to 
the drunken, who transgress through wine, that is, who observe no 
moderation, but indulge themselves in excesses. We now then 
understand the real meaning of the Prophet, which many have not 
    As to the word "inhabiting" I take it in a metaphorical sense, 
as signifying to rest or to continue in the same place. The drunken 
are borne along by a certain excitement; so they do not restrain 
themselves, for they have no power over their feet or their hands: 
but as wine excites them, so they ramble here and there like insane 
persons. As then such an unruly temper lays hold on and bewilders 
drunken men, so the Prophet very aptly says that the proud man never 
    And the reason follows, (provided the meaning be approved,) 
because he enlarges as the grave his soul he is like to death. This 
is then the insatiableness which he had mentioned - that the proud 
cannot be satisfied, and therefore include heaven and earth and sea 
within the compass of their desires. Since then they thus run here 
and there, it is no wonder that the Prophet says that they do not 
rest. He enlarges then as the grave his soul; and then he adds - he 
heaps together, or congregates, or collects to himself all nations, 
and accumulates to himself all people; that is, the proud man keeps 
within no moderate limits; for though he were able to make one heap 
of all nations, he would yet think that not enough, like Alexander, 
who wept because he had not then enjoyed the empire of the whole 
world; and had he enjoyed it his tears would not have been dried; 
for he had heard that, according to the opinion of Democritus, there 
were many worlds. What did he mean? even this "Were I to obtain the 
empire of the world, I should still be poor; for if there are more 
worlds I should still wish to devour them all." These proud men 
surpass every kind of drunkenness. 
    We now apprehend the meaning of the words; and though they 
contain a general truth, yet the Prophet no doubt applies them to 
the king of Babylon and to all the Chaldeans; for as it has been 
said, he includes the whole nation. He shows then here, that the 
Chaldeans were much worse and less excusable than those who with 
great fierceness elated themselves, for their rage carried them 
farther, as they wished to swallow up the whole world. But in order 
to express this more fully, he says that they were like drunken men; 
and he no doubt indirectly derides here the counsels of princes, who 
think themselves to be very wise, when either by deceit they oppress 
their neighbours, or by artful means seize for themselves on the 
lands of others, or by some contrivance, or even by force of arms, 
take possession of them. As princes take wonderful delight in their 
iniquities, so the Prophet says that they are like drunken men who 
transgress by wine, that is, who are completely overcome by 
excessive drinking; and at the same time he shows the cause of this 
drunkenness by mentioning the words "beger yahir", "proud man." As 
then they are proud, so all their crafts are like the freaks of 
drunkenness, that is, furious, as when a man is deprived of reason 
by wine. Having thus spoken of the Babylonians he immediately adds - 
Habakkuk 2:6 
Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting 
proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth [that which 
is] not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick 
    Now at length the Prophet denounces punishment on the 
Babylonian king and the Chaldeans; for the Lord would render them a 
sport to all. But some think that a punishment is also expressed in 
the preceding verse, such as awaits violent robbers, who devour the 
whole world. But I, on the contrary, think that the Prophet spoke 
before of proud cruelty, and simply showed what a destructive evil 
it is, being an insatiable cupidity; and now, as I have stated, he 
comes to its punishment; and he says first, that all the people who 
had been collected as it were into a heap, would take up a parable 
or a taunt, in order to scoff at the king of Babylon. When therefore 
the Chaldeans should possess the empire of almost the whole world, 
and subject to their power all their neighbouring nations, all these 
would at length take up against them parables and taunts; and what 
would be said everywhere would be this - Woe to him who increases 
and enriches himself by things not his own. How long? that is, Is 
this to be perpetual? All then who thus increase themselves heap on 
themselves thick clay, by which they shall at last be overthrown. 
    With regard to the words, "mashal" is a short saying or a pithy 
sentence, and worthy to be remembered, as we have noticed elsewhere. 
Some render it parable. As to the word "melitsah", it probably 
signifies a scoff or a taunt, by which any one is reproved; for it 
comes from "luts", which means to laugh at one or to deride him. It 
is indeed true, that the Hebrews call a rhetorician or an 
interpreter "melits"; and hence some render "melitsah" 
interpretation; but it is not suitable to this passage; for the 
Prophet speaks here of taunts that would be cast against the king of 
Babylon. For as he had as with an open mouth swallowed up all, so 
also all would eagerly prick him with their goads, and disdainfully 
deride him. The word he afterwards adds "chidot", is to be read, I 
have no doubt, in the genitive case. I therefore do not approve of 
adding a copulative, as many do, and read thus - "a taunt and an 
enigma." This word comes from the verb "chud", which is to speak 
enigmatically; hence "chidot" are enigmas, or metaphors, or obscure 
sentences; and we know that when we wish to touch a man to the 
quick, there is more sharpness when we use an obscure word, which 
contains a metaphor or ambiguity, or something of this kind. It is 
not therefore without reason that the Prophet calls taunts, enigmas, 
"chidot", that is, obscure words, which bite or prick men sharply, 
as it were with goads. Hence in all scoffs a figurative language 
ought to be used; and except the expression be ambiguous or 
alliterative, or, in short, contain such metaphors as it is not 
necessary to recite here, there would be in it no beauty, no 
aptness. When therefore men wish to form biting taunts, they obscure 
what might be plainly said by some indirect metaphor; and this is 
the reason why the Prophet speaks here of a taunt that is 
enigmatical, for it is on that account more severe. 
    And he shall say. There is a change of number in this verb, but 
it does not obscure the sense. The particle "hoy" may be rendered 
"woe;" or it may be an exclamation, as when one is attracted by some 
particular sight, caca or sus; and so it is taken often by the 
Hebrews, and the context seems to favour this meaning, for "woe" 
would be frigid. When the Prophets pronounce a curse on the wicked, 
it is no doubt a dreadful threat; but what is found here is a taunt, 
by which the whole world would deride those haughty tyrants who 
thought that they ought to have been worshipped as gods. Ho! they 
say, where is he who multiplies himself by what belongs to another? 
and then, How long is this to be? even such accumulate on themselves 
thick clay; that is, they sink themselves in deep caverns, and heap 
on themselves mountains, by which they become overwhelmed. We now 
understand the meaning of the Prophet's words. 
    What seems here to be the singing of triumph before the victory 
is no matter of wonder; for our faith, as it is well known, depends 
not on the judgement of the flesh, nor regards what is openly 
evident; but it is a vision of hidden things, as it is called in 
Heb. 11: 1, and the substance of things not seen. As then the 
firmness of faith is the same, though what it apprehends is remote, 
and as faith ceases not to see things hidden, - for through the 
mirror of God's word it ascends above heaven and earth, and 
penetrates into the spiritual kingdom of God, - as faith, then, 
possesses a view so distant, it is not to be wondered that the 
Prophet here boldly triumphs over the Babylonians, and now 
prescribes a derisive song for all nations, that the proud, who had 
previously with so much cruelty exalted themselves, might be scoffed 
at and derided. 
    But were any to ask, whether it be right to assail even the 
wicked with scoffs and railleries, the question is unsuitable here; 
for the Prophet does not here refer to what is lawful for the 
faithful to do, but speaks only of what is commonly done by men: and 
we know that it is almost natural to men, that when those whom they 
had feared and dared not to blame as long as they were in power, are 
overthrown, they break forth against them not only with many 
complaints and accusations, but also with wanton rudeness. As, then, 
it usually happens, that all triumph over fallen tyrants, and throw 
forth their taunts, and all seek in this way to bite, the Prophet 
describes this regular course of things. It is not, however, to be 
doubted, but that he composed this song according to the nature of 
the case, when he says, that they were men who multiplied their own 
by what belonged to others; that is, that they gathered the wealth 
of others. It is indeed true, that many things are commonly spread 
abroad, for which there is no reason nor justice; but as some 
principles of equity and justice remain in the hearts of men, the 
consent of all nations is as it were the voice of nature, or the 
testimony of that equity which is engraven on the hearts of men, and 
which they can never obliterate. Such is the reason for this saying; 
for Habakkuk, by introducing the people as the speakers, propounded, 
as it were, the common law of nature, in which all agree; and that 
is, - that whosoever enriches himself by another's wealth, shall at 
length fall, and that when one accumulates great riches, these will 
become like a heap to cover and overwhelm him. And if any one of us 
will consult his own mind, he will find that this is engraven on his 
very nature. 
    How, then, does it happen, that many should yet labour to get 
for themselves the wealth of others, and strive for nothing else 
through their whole life, but to spoil others that they may enrich 
themselves? It hence appears that men's minds are deprived of reason 
by sottishness, whenever they thus addict themselves to unjust gain, 
or when they give themselves loose reins to commit frauds, 
robberies, and plunders. And thus we perceive that the Prophet had 
not without reason represented all the proud and the cruel as 
    Then follow the words, "ad matay", how long? This also is the 
dictate of nature; that is, that an end will some time be to unjust 
plunders, though God may not immediately check plunderers and wicked 
men, who proceed and effect their purposes by force and slaughters, 
and frauds and evil-doings. In the mean time the Prophet also 
intimates, that tyrants and their cruelty cannot be endured without 
great weariness and sorrow; for indignity on account of evil deeds 
kindles within the breasts of all, so that they become wearied when 
they see that wicked men are not soon restrained. Hence almost the 
whole world sound forth these words, How long, how long? When any 
one disturbs the whole world by his ambition and avarice, or 
everywhere commits plunders, or oppresses miserable nations, - when 
he distresses the innocent, all cry out, How long? And this cry, 
proceeding as it does from the feeling of nature and the dictate of 
justice, is at length heard by the Lord. For how comes it that all, 
being touched with weariness, cry out, How long? except that they 
know that this confusion of order and justice is not to be endured? 
And this feeling, is it not implanted in us by the Lord? It is then 
the same as though God heard himself, when he hears the cries and 
greenings of those who cannot bear injustice. 
    But let us in the meantime see that no one of us should have to 
say the same thing to himself, which he brings forward against 
others. For when any avaricious man proceeds through right or wrong, 
as they say, when an ambitious man, by unfair means, advances 
himself, we instantly cry, How long? and when any tyrant violently 
oppresses helpless men, we always say, How long? Though every one 
says this as to others, yet no one as to himself. Let us therefore 
take heed that, when we reprove injustice in others, we come without 
delay to ourselves, and be impartial judges. Self love so blinds us, 
that we seek to absolve ourselves from that fault which we freely 
condemn in others. In general things men are always more correct in 
their judgement, that is, in matters in which they themselves are 
not concerned; but as soon as they come to themselves, they become 
blind, and all rectitude vanishes, and all judgement is gone. Let us 
then know, that this song is set forth here by the Prophet, drawn, 
as it were, from the common feeling of nature, in order that every 
one of us may put a restraint on himself when he discharges the 
office of a judge in condemning others, and that he may also condemn 
himself, and restrain his desires, when he finds them advancing 
beyond just bounds. 
    We must also observe what he subjoins, - that the avaricious 
accumulate on themselves thick clay. This at first may appear 
incredible; but the subject itself plainly shows what the Prophet 
teaches here, provided our minds are not so blinded as not to see 
plain things. Hardly indeed an avaricious man can be found who is 
not a burden to himself, and to whom his wealth is not a source of 
trouble. Every one who has accumulated much, when he comes to old 
age, is afraid to use what he has got, being ever solicitous lest he 
should lose any thing; and then, as he thinks nothing is sufficient, 
the more he possesses the more grasping he becomes, and frugality is 
the name given to that sordid, and, so to speak, that servile 
restraint within which the rich confine themselves. In short, when 
any one forms a judgement of all the avaricious of this world, and 
is himself free from all avarice, having a free and unblessed mind, 
he will easily apprehend what the Prophet says here, - that all the 
wealth of this world is nothing else but a heap of clay, as when any 
one puts himself of his own accord under a great heap which he had 
collected together. 
    Some refer this to the walls of Babylon, which were built of 
baked bricks, as it is well known; but this is too farfetched. 
Others think that the Prophet speaks of the last end of us all; for 
they who possess the greatest riches, being at last thrown into the 
grave, are covered with earth: but this also is not suitable here, 
any more than when they apply it to Nebuchadnezzar, that is, to that 
sottishness by which he had inebriated himself almost through his 
whole life; or when others apply it to Belshazzar, his grandson, 
because when he drank from the sacred vessels of the temple, he 
uttered slanders and blasphemies against God. These explanations are 
by no means suitable; for the Prophet does not here speak of the 
person of the king alone, but, as it has been solid, he, on the 
contrary, summons to judgement the whole nation, which had given 
itself up to plunders and frauds and other evil deeds. 
    Then a general truth is to be drawn from this expression that 
all the avaricious, the more they heap together, the more they lade 
themselves, and, as it were, bury themselves under a great load. 
Whence is this? Because riches, acquired by frauds and plunders, are 
nothing else than a heavy and cumbrous lump of earth: for God 
returns on the heads of those who thus seek to enrich themselves, 
whatever they have plundered from others. Had they been contented 
with some moderate portion, they might have lived cheerfully and 
happily, as we see to be the case with all the godly; who though 
they possess but little, are yet cheerful, for they live in hope, 
and know that their supplies are in God's hand, and expect 
everything from his blessing. Hence, then, their cheerfulness, 
because they have no anxious fears. But they who inebriate 
themselves with riches, find that they carry a useless burden, under 
which they lie down, as it were, sunk and buried. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that as thou deignest so far to condescend 
as to sustain the care of this life, and to supply us with whatever 
is needful for our pilgrimage - O grant that we may learn to rely on 
thee, and so to trust to thy blessing, as to abstain not only from 
all plunder and other evil deeds, but also from every unlawful 
coveting; and to continue in thy fear, and so to learn also to bear 
our poverty on the earth, that being content with those spiritual 
riches which thou offerest to us in thy gospel, and of which thou 
makes us now partakers, we may ever cheerfully aspire after that 
fulness of all blessings which we shall enjoin when at length we 
shall reach the celestial kingdom, and be perfectly united to thee, 
through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 7...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-06.txt