(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 7)
... Continued from Part 6

Lecture One Hundred and Twelfth. 
Habakkuk 2:7 
Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that 
shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? 
    The Prophet proceeds with the subject which we have already 
begun to explain; for he introduces here the common taunts against 
the king of Babylon and the whole tyrannical empire, by which many 
nations had been cruelly oppressed. He therefore says that enemies, 
who should bite him, would suddenly and unexpectedly rise up. Some 
expound this of worms, but not rightly: for God not only inflicted 
punishment on the king when dead, but he intended also that there 
should be on earth an evident and a memorable proof of his vengeance 
on the Babylonians, by which it might be made known to all that 
their cruelty could not be suffered to go unpunished. 
    The words, Shall not they rise suddenly, are emphatical, both 
as to the question and as to the word, "peta", suddenly. We indeed 
know that interrogations are more common in Hebrew than in Greek and 
Latin, and that they are stronger and more forcible. Our Prophet 
then speaks of what was indubitable. He adds, suddenly; for the 
Babylonians, relying on their own power, did not think that any evil 
was nigh them; and if any one dared to rise up against them, this 
could not have been so sudden, but they could have in time resisted 
and driven far away every danger. They indeed ruled far and wide; 
and we know that the wicked often sleep when they find themselves 
fortified on all sides. But the Prophet declares here that evil was 
nigh them, which would suddenly overwhelm them. It now follows - 
Habakkuk 2:8 
Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the 
people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and [for] the 
violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. 
    The Prophet here expresses more clearly why the Babylonians 
were to be so severely dealt with by Cod. He shows that it would be 
a just reward that they should be plundered in their turn, who had 
previously given themselves up to plunder, violence, and cruelty. 
Since, then, they had exercised so much inhumanity towards all 
people, the Prophet intimates here that God could not be deemed as 
treating them cruelly, by inflicting on them so severe a punishment: 
he also confirms the former truth, and recalls the attention of the 
faithful to the judgement of God, as a main principle to be 
remembered; for when things in the world are in a state of 
confusion, we despond, and all hope vanishes, except this comes to 
our mind - that as God is the judge of the world it cannot be 
otherwise but that at length all the wicked must appear before his 
tribunal, and give there an account of all their deeds; and 
Scripture, also, is wont to set God before us as a judge, whenever 
the purpose is to allay our troubles. The Prophet now does the same 
thing: for he says, that robbers should soon come upon the 
Babylonians, who would plunder them; for God, the judge of the 
world, would not at last suffer so many plunders to be unpunished. 
    But it was everywhere known that the Babylonians had, beyond 
all bounds and moderation, given themselves up to plunder, so that 
they spared no nations. Hence ho says, because thou hast plundered 
many nations; and on this he enlarges; because the Babylonians had 
not only done wrongs to a few men, or to one people, but had marched 
through many countries. As, then, they had taken to themselves so 
much liberty in doing evil, the Prophet draws this conclusion - that 
they could not escape the hand of God, but that they were at length 
to find by experience that there was a God in heaven, who would 
repay them for their wrongs. 
    He says also, Spoil thee shall the remnant of all people. This 
admits of two expositions; it may mean, that the people, who had 
been plundered by the Chaldeans, would take revenge on them: and he 
calls them a remnant, because they were not entire; but yet he 
intimates that they would be sufficient to take vengeance on the 
Babylonians. This view may be admitted, and yet we may suppose, that 
the Prophet takes in other nations, who had never been plundered; as 
though he had said - "Thou hast indeed spoiled many nations; but 
there are other nations in the world whom thy cruelty could not have 
reached. All the people then who remain in the world shall strive to 
outdo one another in attacking thee; and canst thou be strong enough 
to resist so great a power?" Either of these views may be admitted; 
that is, that in the wasted and plundered countries there would be 
still a remnant who would take vengeance, - or that the world 
contained other people who would willingly undertake this cause and 
execute vengeance on the Babylonians; for God would by his secret 
influence fulfil by their means his purpose of punishing them. 
    He then adds, on account of man's blood; that is, because thou 
hast shed innocent blood, and because thou hast committed many 
plunders; for thou hast not only injured a few men, but thy 
daringness and cruelty have also extended to many nations. He indeed 
mentions the earth, and also the city. Some confine these words to 
the land of Judea and to Jerusalem, but not rightly; for the Prophet 
speaks here generally; and to the land, he joins cities and their 
    But this verse contains a truth which applies to all times. Let 
us then learn, during the licentious success of tyrants, to raise up 
our minds to heaven's tribunal, and to nourish our patience with 
this confidence, that the Lord, who is the judge of the world, will 
recompense these cruel and bloody robbers, and that the more 
licentious they are, the heavier judgement is nigh them; for the 
Lord will awaken and raise up as many to execute vengeance as there 
are men in the world, who by shedding blood will inflict punishment, 
though they may not intend to fulfil his purpose. God can indeed (as 
it has been often observed) execute his judgements in a wonderful 
and sudden manner. Let us hence also learn to restrain our evil 
desires; for none shall go unpunished who will allow themselves to 
injure their brethren; though they may seem to be unpunished for a 
time, yet God, who is ever the same, will at length return on their 
heads whatever they have devised against others, as we shall 
presently see again. He now adds - 
Habakkuk 2:9 
Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he 
may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of 
    Habakkuk proceeds in exciting the king of Babylon by taunts; 
which were not scurrilous jests, but contained serious threatening; 
for, as it has been already said, the Prophet here introduces indeed 
the common people, but in that multitude we are to recognise the 
innumerable heralds of God's vengeance: and hence he says, Woe to 
him who coveteth, &c.; or we may say, Ho! for it is a particle of 
exclamation, as it has been said: Ho! thou, he says, who covetest an 
evil covetousness to thy house, and settest on high thy nest: but 
what shall happen? The next verse declares the punishment. 
    The clause, Woe to him who covets an evil covetousness to his 
house, may be read by itself, - that this cupidity shall be 
injurious to his house; as though he had said, "Thou indeed wouldest 
provide for thy house by accumulating great riches; but thy house 
shall find this to be evil and ruinous. So the word "ra'ah", evil, 
might be referred to the house; but the verse is best connected by 
reading the whole together; that is, that the Babylonians not only 
provided for themselves, while they with avidity plundered and 
collected much wealth from all quarters; but that they wished also 
to make provisions for their sons and grandsons: and we also see, 
that avarice has this object in view; for they who are anxiously 
bent on the accumulation of riches do not only regard what is 
needful for themselves to pass through life, but also wish to leave 
their heirs rich. Since then the avaricious are desirous of 
enriching for ever their houses, the prophet, deriding this madness, 
says, Woe to him who covets an evil covetousness to his house; that 
is, who wishes not only to abound and be satiated himself, but also 
to supply his posterity with abundance. 
    He adds another vice, which is almost ever connected with the 
former - that he may set, he says, his nest on high; for the 
avaricious have a regard to this - to fortify themselves; for as an 
evil conscience is always fearful, many dangers come across their 
minds - "This may happen to me," and then, "My wealth will procure 
for me the hatred and envy of many. If then some danger be at hand, 
I shall be able to redeem my life many times;" and he also adds, 
"Were I satisfied with a moderate portion, many would become my 
rivals; but when my treasures surpass what is common, then I shall 
be as it were beyond the reach of men; and when others envy one 
another, I shall escape." So the avaricious think within themselves 
when they are ardently bent on accumulating riches, and form for 
themselves a great heap like a nest; for they think that they are 
raised above the world, and are exempt from the common lot of men, 
when surrounded by their riches. 
    We now then see what the Prophet means: Woe, he says, to him 
who wickedly and intemperately covets. And why does he so do? To 
enrich his posterity. And then he adds, to him who covets that he 
may set his nest on high; that is, that he may by wealth fortify 
himself, that he may be able to drive away every danger, and be thus 
exempt from every evil and trouble. And he adds, that he may deliver 
himself from the power of evil; he expresses now more clearly what I 
have said - that the rich are inebriated with false confidence, when 
they surpass all others; for they think not themselves to be 
mortals, but imagine that they have another life, as though they had 
a world of their own, free from all dangers. But while the 
avaricious thus elevate themselves by a proud confidence, the 
Prophet derides their madness. He then subjoins their punishment - 
Habakkuk 2:10 
Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, 
and hast sinned [against] thy soul. 
    The Prophet again confirms the truth, that those who count 
themselves happy, imagining that they are like God, busy themselves 
in vain; for God will turn to shame whatever they think to be their 
glory, derived from their riches. The avaricious indeed wish, as it 
appears from the last verse, to prepare splendour for their 
posterity, and they think to render illustrious their race by their 
wealth; for this is deemed to be nobility, that the richer any one 
is the more he excels, as he thinks, in dignity, and the more is he 
to be esteemed by all. Since, then, this is the object of almost all 
the avaricious, the Prophet here reminds them, that they are greatly 
deceived; for the Lord will not only frustrate their hopes, but will 
also convert their glory into shame. Hence he says, that they 
consult shame to their family. 
    He includes in the word consult, all the industry, diligence, 
skill, care, and labour displayed by the avaricious. We indeed see 
how very sagacious they are; for if they smell any gain at a 
distance, they draw it to themselves, night and day they form new 
designs, that they may circumvent this person and plunder that 
person, and accumulate into their heap whatever money they can find, 
and also that they may join fields to fields, built great palaces, 
and secure great revenues. This is the reason why the Prophet says, 
that they consult shame. What is the object of all their designs? 
for they are, as we have said, very sharp and keen-sighted, they are 
also industrious, and torment themselves day and night with 
continual labour; for what purpose are all these things? even for 
this, that their posterity may be eminent, that their nobility may 
be in the mouth of all, and spread far and wide. But the Prophet 
shows that they labour in vail; for God will turn to shame whatever 
they in their great wisdom contrived for the honour of their 
families. The more provident then the avaricious are, the more 
foolish they are, for they consult nothing but disgrace to their 
    He adds, though thou cuttest off many people. This seems to 
have been expressed for the sake of anticipating an objection; for 
it might have seemed incredible that the Babylonians should form 
designs disgraceful to their posterity, when their fame was so 
eminent, and Babylon itself was like an idol, and the king was 
everywhere regarded with great reverence and also fear. Since then 
the Babylonians had made such advances, who could have thought it 
possible that what the Prophet declares here should take place? But, 
as I have already said, he meets these objections, and says, "Though 
the Babylonians shall conquer many enemies, and overthrow strong 
people, yet this will be of no advantage to them; nay, even that 
will turn out to their disgrace which they think will be to their 
    To the same purpose is what he adds, thou hast sinned against 
thy soul. Some give this version, "Thou hast sinned licentiously" or 
immoderately; others, "Thy soul has sinned," but these pervert the 
Prophet's meaning; for what he intended was nothing else but the 
evils which the avaricious and the cruel bring on themselves, and 
which will return on their own heads. When therefore the Babylonians 
contrived ruin for the whole world, the Prophet predicts that an 
end, very different from what they thought, would be to them: thou 
hast sinned, he says, against thine own soul; that is, the evil 
which thou didst prepare to bring on others, shall be made by God to 
fall on thine own head. 
    And this kind of declaration ought to be carefully noticed; 
that is, that the ungodly, while they trouble all, and harass all, 
while they torment one, plunder another, oppress another, do always 
sin against their own souls; that is, they do not cause so such loss 
and sorrow to others as to themselves: for the Lord will make the 
evil they intend for others to return on themselves. He does not 
speak here of guilt, but of punishment, when he says, "Thou hast 
sinned against thy soul;" that is, thou shalt receive the reward due 
to all thy sins. We now then see what the Prophet means. It now 
follows - 
Habakkuk 2:11-13 
11 For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the 
timber shall answer it. 
12 Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a 
city by iniquity! 
13 Behold, [is it] not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall 
labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for 
very vanity? 
    There is here introduced by the Prophet a new personification. 
He had before prepared a common song, which would be in the mouth of 
all. He now ascribes speech to stones and wood, of which buildings 
are formed. The stone, he says, shall cry from the wall, and the 
wood from the chamber; that is, there is no part of the building 
that will not cry out that it was built by plunder, by cruelty, and, 
in a word, by evil deeds. The Prophet not only ascribes speech to 
wood and stone, but he makes them also respond one to the other as 
in a chorus, as in lyrics there are voices which take up the song in 
turns. The stone, he says, shall cry from the wall, and the wood 
shall respond to it from the chamber; as though he said, "There will 
be a striking harmony in every part of the building; for the wall 
will begin and will utter its song, 'Behold I have been built by 
blood and by iniquity;' and the wood will utter the same, and will 
cry, 'Woe;' but all in due order; there will be no confused noise, 
but as music has distinct sounds, so also the stones will respond to 
the wood and the wood to the stones, so that there may be, as they 
say, corresponding voices." 
    The stone, then, from the wall shall cry, and the wood shall 
answer - what will it answer? - Woe to him who builds a city by 
blood, and who adorns his city by iniquity. By blood and by iniquity 
he understands the same thing; for though the avaricious do not kill 
innocent men, they yet suck their blood, and what else is this but 
to kill them by degrees, by a slow tormenting process? For it is 
easier at once to undergo death than to pine away in want, as it 
happens to helpless men when spoiled and deprived of all their 
property. Wherever there is wanton plundering, there is murder 
committed in the sight of God; for as it has been said, he who 
spares not the helpless, but drinks up their blood, doubtless sins 
no less than if he were to kill them. 
    But if this personification seems to any one strange, he must 
consider how incredible seemed to be what the Prophet here teaches, 
and how difficult it was to produce a conviction on the subject. We 
indeed confess that God is the judge of the world; nay, there is no 
one who does not anticipate his judgement by condemning avarice and 
cruelty; the very name of avarice is infamous and hated by all: the 
same may be said of cruelty. But yet when we see the avaricious in 
splendour and in esteem, we are astounded, and no one is able to 
foresee by faith what the Prophet here declares. Since, then our 
dullness is so great, or rather our sottishness, it is no wonder 
that the Prophet should here set before us the stones and the wood, 
as though he said, "When all prophecies and all warnings become 
frigid, and God himself obtains no credit, while openly declaring 
what he will do, and when his servants consume their labour in vain 
by warning and crying, let now the stones come forth, and be 
teachers to you who will not give ear to the voice of God himself, 
and let the wood also cry out in its turn." This, then, is the 
reason why the Prophet introduces here mute things as the speakers, 
even to awaken our insensibility. 
    Then he adds, Shall it not be, behold, from Jehovah of hosts? 
Some give a wrong version, "Is not this," as though "hinne" were put 
here instead of a pronoun demonstrative; but they extenuate and 
obscure the beauty of the expression; nay, they pervert the meaning 
of the Prophet: for when he says, "hinne", behold, he refers not to 
what he had said, nor specifies any particular thing, and yet he 
shows, as it were by the finger, the judgement of God, which he bids 
us to expect; as though he said, "Shall not God at length have his 
turn, when the avaricious and the cruel have obtained their triumphs 
in the world, and darkened the minds and thoughts of all, as though 
no account were to be given by them before the tribunal of God? 
Shall not God sometime show that it is his time to interpose?" When, 
therefore, he says, Shall it not be, behold, from Jehovah? it is an 
indefinite mode of speaking; he does not say, This or that shall be 
from the God of hosts; but, Shall it not be, behold, from Jehovah of 
hosts? that is, God seems now indeed to rest, and on this account 
men indulge themselves with greater boldness; but he will not always 
remain still, Shall not God then come forth, who seems now to be 
unconcerned? Something there will at length be from the God of 
hosts. And the demonstrative particle confirms the same thing: 
Behold, he says, as though he would show to the faithful as in a 
picture the tribunal of God, which cannot be seen by us now but by 
faith. He says, Behold, will not there be something from the God of 
hosts? that is, Will not God at length stretch forth his hand, to 
show that he is not unconcerned, but that he cares for the affairs 
of men? In a word, by this mode of speaking is pointed out to us the 
change, which we are to hole for, inasmuch as it cannot be soon 
    Hence he concludes, The people, then, labour in the fire, and 
the people weary themselves in vain. To labour in the fire means the 
same thing as to take in hand an unprofitable work, the fruit of 
which is immediately consumed. Some say that people labour in the 
fire, because Babylon had been built by a great number of men, and 
at length perished by fire; but this explanation seems far-fetched. 
I take a simpler view - that people labour in the fire, like him who 
performs a work, and a fire is put under it and consumes it; or like 
him, who with great labour polishes his own work, and a fire is 
prepared, which destroys it while in the hands of the artifices. For 
it is certain that the Prophet repeats the same thing in another 
form, when he says,  "bediy-rik", with vanity, or for vanity. We now 
then apprehend his object. 
    We may here collect a useful doctrine - that not only the fruit 
of labour shall be lost by all who seek by wicked means to enrich 
themselves, but also that were the whole world favourable and 
subservient to them, the whole would yet be useless; as it happened 
to the king of Babylon, though he had many people ready to obey him. 
But the Prophet derides all those great preparation; for God had 
fire at hand to consume whatever they had so eagerly contrived who 
wished to spend all their labour to please one man. He at length 
adds - 
Habakkuk 2:14 
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the 
LORD, as the waters cover the sea. 
    The Prophet briefly teaches us here, that so remarkable would 
be God's judgement on the Babylonians that his name would thereby be 
celebrated through the whole world. But there is in this verse an 
implied contrast; for God appeared not in his own glory when the 
Jews were led away into exile; the temple being demolished and the 
whole city destroyed; and also when the whole easterly regions was 
exposed to rapine and plunder. When therefore the Babylonians were, 
after the Assyrians, swallowing up all their neighbours, the glory 
of God did not then shine, nor was it conspicuous in the world. The 
Jews themselves had become mute; for their miseries had, as it were, 
stupefied them; their mouths were at least closed, so that they 
could not from the heart bless God, while he was so severely 
afflicting them. And then, in that manifold confusion of all things, 
the profane thought that all things here take place fortuitously, 
and that there is no divine providence. God then was at that time 
hid: hence the Prophet says, Filled shall be the earth with the 
knowledge of God; that is, God will again become known, when by 
stretching forth his hand he will execute vengeance on the 
Babylonians; then will the Jews, as well as other nations, 
acknowledge that the world is governed by God's providence, as it 
had been once created by him. 
    We now understand the Prophet's meaning, and why he says, that 
the earth would be filled with the knowledge of God's glory; for the 
glory of God previously disappeared from the world, with regard to 
the perceptions of men; but it shone forth again, when God himself 
had erected his tribunal by overthrowing Babylon, and thereby proved 
that there is no power among men which he cannot control. We have 
the same sentence in Isaiah 11: 9. The Prophet there speaks indeed 
of the kingdom of Christ; for when Christ was openly made known to 
the world, the knowledge of God's glory at the same time filled the 
earth; for God then appeared in his own living image. But yet our 
Prophet uses a proper language, when he says that the earth shall 
then be filled with the knowledge of God's glory, when he should 
execute vengeance on the Babylonians. Hence incorrectly have some 
applied this to the preaching of the gospel, as though Habakkuk made 
a transition from the ruin of Babylon to the general judgement: this 
is a strained exposition. It is indeed a well-known mode of 
speaking, and often occurs in the Psalms, that the power, grace, and 
truth of God are made known through the world, when he delivers his 
people and restrains the ungodly. The same mode the Prophet now 
adopts; and he compares this fulness of knowledge to the waters of 
the sea, because the sea, as we know, is so deep, that there is no 
measuring of its waters. So Habakkuk intimates, that the glory of 
God would be so much known that it would not only fill the world, 
but in a manner overflow it: as the waters of the sea by their vast 
quantity cover the deep, so the glory of God would fill heaven and 
earth, so as to have no limits. If, at the same time, there be a 
wish to extend this sentence to the coming of Christ, I do not 
object: for we know that the grace of redemption flowed in a 
perpetual stream until Christ appeared in the world. But the 
Prophet, I have no doubt, sets forth here the greatness of God's 
power in the destruction of Babylon. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so inclined to do wrong, that 
every one is naturally disposed to consider his own private 
advantage - O grant that we may confine ourselves by that restraint 
which thou layest on us by thy Prophets, so that we may not allow 
our coveting to break forth so as to commit wrong or iniquity, but 
confine ourselves within the limits of what is just, and abstain 
from what belongs to others: may we also so learn to console 
ourselves in all our distresses, that though we may be justly 
oppressed by the wicked, we may yet rely on thy providence and 
righteous judgement, and patiently wait until thou deliverest us, 
and makes it manifest that whatever the wicked devise for our ruin, 
so cleaves to themselves as to return and recoil at length on their 
own heads; and may we so fight under the banner of the Cross, as to 
possess our souls in patience, until we at length shall attain that 
blessed life which is laid up in heaven for us, through our Lord 
Jesus Christ. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 8...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-07.txt