(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 8)
... Continued from Part 7

Lecture One Hundred and Thirteenth. 
Habakkuk 2:15,16 
Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy 
bottle to [him], and makest [him] drunken also, that thou mayest 
look on their nakedness! 
Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy 
foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD'S right hand shall be 
turned unto thee, and shameful spewing [shall be] on thy glory. 
    This passage, in which the Prophet condemns the king of Babylon 
for his usual practice of rendering drunk his friends, is frigidly 
interpreted by most expounders. It has been already often said how 
bold the Jews are in contriving what is fabulous; when nothing 
certain occurs to them, they divine this or that without any 
discrimination or shame. Hence they say, that Nebuchadnezzar was 
given to excess, and led all whom he could into a participation of 
the same vice. They also think that his associates were captive 
kings, as though he bid them for the sake of sport to be brought to 
his table, and by drinking to their health, forced them to 
intoxication, that he might laugh at them when they made themselves 
base and ridiculous. But all this is groundless; for there is no 
history that relates any such thing. It is, however, easy to see 
that another matter is here treated of by the Prophet; for he does 
not speak of the king only, but he refers to the whole empire. I 
therefore doubt not but that this whole discourse, in which the 
Babylonian king is condemned for making drunk his associates or 
friends, is metaphorical or allegorical. But before I proceed 
further on the subject, I shall say something as to the words; for 
the meaning of the Prophet will thereby be made more evident. 
    Woe, he says, to him who gives his friend drink; then he adds, 
"mesapeach chamatcha", "who joinest and bottle." "Chamah" is taken 
in Hebrew for a bottle; and we know, and it is sufficiently evident 
from Scripture, that the Jews used bottles of skin, as there are 
casks and larger vessels with us. Since, then, they put their wine 
into bottles, these were often taken for their cups, as it is in our 
language, when one says, Des flacons, des bouteilles. Hence some 
give this explanation - that the king of Babylon brought forth his 
flagons, that he might force to intoxication, by excessive drinking, 
those who could not and dared not to resist his will. But others 
render "chamah" wrath, with a preposition understood: and in order 
that nothing may be understood, some render the participle, 
"mesapeach" "displaying," that is, "his fury." But as "chamah" means 
to be hot, we may, therefore, properly give this version, "Uniting 
thy heat;" that is, "It is not enough for thee to inebriate others, 
except thou implicates them with thyself." We now perceive the 
meaning of this phrase. He adds, And thou also dost inebriate. We 
may hence learn that the Prophet had no other thing in view, but to 
show that the king of Babylon sought for himself many associates in 
his intemperance or excess: at the same time he takes, as I have 
said, excess in a metaphorical sense. I shall presently explain more 
fully what all this means; but now we only expound the words. And 
thou, he says, dost also inebriate: the particle "af" as it is well 
known, is laid down for the sake of amplifying. After having said, 
Thou unitest thy heat; that is, thou exhales thine intemperance, so 
that others also contract the same heat with thyself, he immediately 
adds, Thou inebriatest them. It follows, that their nakedness may be 
made olden; that is, that they may disclose themselves with shame. 
The following verse I shall defer until we shall see more clearly 
what the Prophet had in view. 
    As I have already said the Prophet charges the Babylonian king 
with having implicated neighbouring kings in his own evil desires, 
and with having in a manner inebriated them. He indeed compares the 
insatiable avarice of that king to intemperance; for as it is the 
object of drunken men not to drink what may suffice them, but to 
glut themselves with wine, so also when avarice is dominant in the 
hearts of men, they are seized with a certain kind of fury, like a 
person who has an immoderate love for wine. This is the reason for 
the metaphor; for the Babylonian king, when he thirsted for the 
blood of men, and also for wealth and kingdoms, led into the same 
kind of madness many other kings; for he could not have succeeded 
except he had allured the favour of many others, and deceived them 
with vain expectations. As a person who gives himself up to drinking 
wishes to leave associates, so Habakkuk lays the same thing to the 
charge of the king of Babylon; for being himself addicted to 
insatiable avarice, he procured associates to be as it were his 
guests, and quaffed wine to them, that is, elicited their cupidity, 
that they might join him in his wars; for each hoped for a part of 
the spoil after victory. Since, then, he had thus blinded many 
kings, they are said to have been inebriated by him. We indeed know 
that such allurements infatuate the minds and hearts of men; for 
there is no intoxication that stultifies men more than that eager 
appetite by which they devour both lands and seas. 
    We now then apprehend what the Prophet meant - that the 
Babylonian king not only burnt with his own avarice, but kindled 
also, as it were, a flame in others, like drunken men who excite one 
another. As then he had thus inflamed all the neighbouring kings to 
rush headlong without any consideration and without any shame, like 
a person suffocated and overcome by excessive drinking; so the 
Prophet designates this inflaming as quaffing wine to them. 
    And this metaphor ought to be carefully observed; for we see at 
this day as in a mirror what the Prophet teaches here. For all the 
great princes, when they devise any plans of their own, send their 
ambassadors here and there, and seek to involve with themselves 
other cities and princes; and as no one is willing to endanger 
himself without reason, they set forth many fallacious allurements. 
And when any city fears a neighbouring prince, it will seek to 
fortify itself by a new protection; so a treaty, when offered, 
becomes like a snare to it. And then when any inferior prince wishes 
to enlarge his borders, or to revenge himself, he willingly puts on 
arms, nay, anxiously, that he may be able, by the help of a greater, 
to effect his purpose, which he could not otherwise accomplish. Thus 
we see that dukes and counts, as they are called, and free cities, 
are daily inebriated. They who are chief kings, abounding in wine, 
that is, full of many vain promises, give to drink, as it were with 
full flagons, bidding wine to be brought forth on a well furnished 
table - "I will make thine enemy to give way to thee, and thou shalt 
compel him according to thy wish, and when I shall obtain the 
victory a part of the spoil shall be allotted to thee; I desire 
nothing but the glory. With regard to you, the free cities, see, ye 
tremble continually; now if you lie under my shadow, it will be the 
best security for you." Such quaffing is to be found at this day 
almost throughout the whole of Europe. 
    Then the Prophet does not without reason commemorate this vice 
in the king of Babylon - that he made those associates drunk whom he 
had bound to himself by perfidious treaties; for as it has been 
said, there is no intoxication so dangerous as this madness; that 
is, when any one promises this or that to himself, and imagines what 
does not exist. Hence he not only says, that the Babylonian king 
gave drink to his friends, but also that he joined his bottles; as 
though he had said that he was very liberal, nay, prodigal, while 
seeking associates in his intemperance; for if one condition did not 
suffice, another was added - "Behold, my king is prepared; but if he 
is not enough another will be joined with him." They thus then join 
together their heat. If we take "chamah" for a bottle, then to join 
together their bottles would mean, that they accumulated promises 
until they inebriated those whom they sought to deceive. But if the 
other interpretation be more approved, which I am disposed to 
follow, then the meaning would be - They join together their own 
heat, that is, they implicate others with themselves; as they burn 
themselves with insatiable cupidity, so they spread this ardour far 
and wide, so that the desires of many become united. 
    He afterwards adds - that thou mayest see their nakedness. It 
was not indeed an object to the king of Babylon to disclose the 
reproach of all those whom he had induced to take part in his wars; 
but we know that great kings are wont to neglect their friends, to 
whom at first they promise every thing. When a king wishes to entice 
to himself a free city or an inferior prince, he will say - "See, I 
seek nothing but to be thy friend". We indeed see how shamefully 
they perjure themselves; nor is it enough for them to utter these 
perjuries in their courts; but not many years pass away before our 
great kings make public their abominable perjuries; and it appears 
immediately afterwards that they thus seek, without any shame, to 
mock both God and all mankind. After testifying that they seek 
nothing except to defend by their protection what is right and just, 
and to resist the tyranny and pride of others, they immediately draw 
back when anything adverse afterwards happens, and the city, which 
had hoped everything from so liberal a king, is afterwards forced to 
submit and to agree with its enemies, and to manage matters anyhow; 
thus its nakedness is disclosed. In the same manner also are 
inferior princes deprived of their power. And to whom is this to be 
imputed but to the principal author? For when any one, for the sake 
of ambition or avarice, leads others to inconvenience or to damage, 
he may justly and correctly be said to disclose their nakedness. We 
now apprehend the Prophet's real meaning, which interpreters have 
not understood. I come now to the next verse - 
    He says that he is satiated with shame instead of glory. Some 
give this rendering - "Thou art satiated with shame more than 
glory;" but this does not suit the passage; for the Prophet does not 
mean that the Babylonian king was satiated with his own reproach, 
but rather with that of others. Secondly, the particle "mem" is not 
put here in a comparative sense, but the clause is on the contrary 
to be understood thus - "By thy glory, or, on account of thy glory, 
thou art satiated with shame". It must also in the third place be 
observed, that punishment is not what the Prophet describes in these 
words; for it immediately follows - "shteh gam attah", "drink thou 
also." He comes now to punishment. By saying, then, that the king of 
Babylon was satiated with shame on account of glory, it is the same 
as though he had said, that while he was intent on increasing his 
own glory he brought all others to shame. It is indeed the common 
game of great kings, as it has been said, to enlarge their own power 
at the expense and loss of others. They would, indeed, if they 
could, render their friends safe; but when any one loses ground in 
their favour they neglect him. We see how at this day great kings, 
raising great armies, shed innocent blood. When a slaughter is made 
in war they express their grief, but it is only on account of their 
own glory or advantage. They will in words profess that they 
sympathise with the miserable men who faithfully spent their life 
for them, but they have for them no real concern. As, then, great 
kings draw human blood, and care nothing when many perish for their 
sake, the Prophet justly says, That the king of Babylon was satiated 
with shame on account of glory; that is, that while he was seeking 
his own glory he was satiated with the reproaches of many; for many 
perished on his account, many had been robbed of their power, or 
were afterwards to be robbed - for the Prophet refers not here to 
what had taken place, but he speaks of things future; and the past 
tense of verbs was intended to express certainty; and we know that 
this was a common mode of speaking with the Prophets. 
    He now adds - drink thou also. We hence see that the king of 
Babylon was secure as long as he remained untouched, though his 
alliance and friendship had proved ruinous to many. As long then as 
his kingdom flourished, the king of Babylon cared but little for the 
losses of others. Hence the Prophet says - "Thou shalt also drink; 
thou thinkest that others only shall be punished, as though thou 
were not exposed to God's judgement; but thou shalt come in thy turn 
and drink;" - in what way? He speaks here allegorically of the 
vengeance which was nigh the king of Babylon - "Thou, also," he 
says, "shalt drink and become a reproach," or, shalt be uncovered. 
    The word "arel" means in Hebrew the foreskin; and the 
foreskinned, or uncircumcised, was the name given to the profane and 
the base, or the contaminated; and hence many give this rendering - 
"Thou also shalt become ignominious;" but others express more 
clearly the Prophet's meaning by this version- "Thou shalt be 
uncovered." Yet their opinion is not amiss who think that there is 
here a change of letters, that "he'arel" is put for "hera'el"; and 
"ra'al" means to be cast asleep; and it well suits a drunken man to 
say that he is stupefied. But as the Prophet had spoken of 
nakedness, I retain the word as it is; and thus the two clauses will 
correspond - Then thou shalt drink and be uncovered. 
    Then follows the explanation - Poured forth into thee shall be 
the cup of Jehovah's right hand; that is, "the Lord shall in his 
time be thy cup-bearer; as thou hast inebriated many nations, and 
under the pretence of friendship hast defrauded those who, being 
bound to thee by treaties, have been ruined; so the Lord will now 
recompense thee with the reward which thou hast deserved: As thou 
hast been a cup-bearer to others, so the Lord will now become thy 
cup-bearer, and will inebriate thee, but after another manner." We 
indeed know what the Scripture everywhere means by the cup of God's 
hand - even vengeance of every kind. God strikes some with giddiness 
and precipitates them, when deprived of all humanity, into a state 
of madness; others he infatuates by insensibility; some he deprives 
of all understanding, so that they perceive nothing aright; against 
others he rouses up enemies, who treat them with cruelty. Hence the 
Lord is said to extend his cup to the wicked whenever he takes 
vengeance on them. 
    Therefore he adds - the reproach of spewing shall be on thy 
glory. The word "kikalon" is a compound. We have already seen that 
"kalon" is shame; and now he speaks of shameful spewing. And this 
may be referred to the king of Babylon - that he himself would 
shamefully spew out what he had before intemperately swallowed down; 
or it might be fitly applied to his enemies - that they would spew 
in the face of the king of Babylon. 
    The end of which Habakkuk speaks, awaits all tyrants, who 
disturb the world by their cupidity. Ambition does indeed so 
infatuate them, that they neither spare human blood, nor hesitate to 
endanger their nearest and most friendly associates. Since then an 
insatiable thirst for glory thus inflames them, the Prophet justly 
allots to them this reward - that they shall receive filthy and 
shameful spewing instead of that glory, in seeking which they 
observed no limits. Let us now proceed - 
Habakkuk 2:17 
For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of 
beasts, [which] made them afraid, because of men's blood, and for 
the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell 
    We may hence easily learn, that the Prophet has not been 
speaking of drunkenness, but that his discourse, as we have 
explained, was metaphorical; for here follows a reason, why he had 
denounced such a punishment on the king of Babylon, and that was, 
because he had exercised violence, not only against all nations 
indiscriminately, but also against the chosen people of God. He had 
before only set forth in general the cruelty with which the king of 
Babylon had destroyed many nations; but he now speaks distinctly of 
the Jews, in order to show that God would in a peculiar manner be 
the avenger of that cruelty which the Chaldeans had employed towards 
the Jews, because the Lord had taken that people under his own 
protection. Since then the king of Babylon had assailed the children 
of God, who had been adopted by him, and whose defender he was, he 
denounces upon him here a special punishment. We thus see that this 
discourse is properly addressed to the Jews; for he intended to 
bring them some consolation in their extreme evils, so that they 
might strengthen their patience; for they were thereby made to see 
that the wrongs done to them were come to a reckoning before God. 
    By Libanus then we are to understand either Judea or the 
temple; for Libanus, as it is well known, was not far from the 
temple; and it is elsewhere found in the same sense. But if any 
extends this to the land of Judea, the meaning will be the same; 
there will be but little or no difference as to the subject that is 
handled. Because the violence then of Libanus shall overwhelm thee. 
    Then come the words, the pillaging of beasts. Interpreters 
think that the Chaldeans and Assyrians are here called "behemot", 
beasts, as they had been savage and cruel, like wild beasts, in 
laying waste Judea; but I rather understand by the beasts of Libanus 
those which inhabited that forest. The Prophet exaggerates the 
cruelty of the king of Babylon by this consideration, that he had 
been an enemy to brute beasts; and I consider the pronoun relative 
"asher", which, to be understood before the verb "yechitan", which 
may be taken to mean, to tear, or to frighten, Some give this 
rendering, "The plundering of beasts shall tear them;" as though he 
had said, "The Babylonians are indeed like savage beasts, but they 
shall be torn by their own plundering:" but another sense will be 
more suitable that the plundering of beasts, which terrified them, 
shall overwhelm thee; for the same verb, "yachas" shall cover or 
overwhelm the king of Babylon, is to be repeated here. He adds at 
last the clause, which was explained yesterday. We now perceive the 
meaning of the Prophet to be - that the king of Babylon would be 
justly plundered, because he had destroyed the holy land and 
iniquitously attacked God's chosen people, and had also carried on 
his depredations through almost the whole of the Easter world. It 
now follows - 
Habakkuk 2:18 
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven 
it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his 
work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? 
    The Prophet now advances farther, and shows that whatever he 
had predicted of the future ruin of Babylon and of its monarchy, 
proceeded from the true God, from the God of Israel: for it would 
not have been sufficient to hold, that some deity existed in heaven, 
who ruled human affairs, so that it could not be, but that tyrants 
would have to suffer punishment for their cruelty. We indeed know 
that such sayings as these were everywhere common among heathen 
nations - that justice sits with Jupiter - that there is a Nemesis - 
that there is Divine vengeance. Since then such a conviction had 
ever been imprinted on the hearts of men, it would have been a 
frigid and almost an empty doctrine, had not the Prophet introduced 
the God of Israel. This is the reason why he now derides all idols, 
and claims for God the government of the whole world, and clearly 
shows that he speaks of the Jews, because they worshipped no 
imaginary gods, as the heathen nations, but plainly understood him 
to be the creator of heaven and earth, who revealed himself to 
Abraham, who gave his law by the hand of Moses. We now perceive the 
Prophet's design. 
    As then the king of Babylon did himself worship his own gods, 
the Prophet dissipates that vain confidence, by which he might be 
deceived and deceive others. Hence he says, What avails the graven 
image? He speaks here contemptuously of images formed by men's 
hands. And he adds a reason, because the maker has graven it, he 
says. Interpreters give a sense that is very jejune, as though the 
Prophet had said, "What avails a graven image, when it is graven or 
melted by its artifices?" But the Prophet shows here the reason why 
the worship of idols is useless, and that is, because these gods are 
made of dead materials. And then he says, "What deity can the 
artifices produce?" We hence see that a reason is given in these 
words, and therefore we may more clearly render them thus - "What 
avails the graven image, when the framer has graven it?" that is, 
since the graven image has its origin from the hand and skill of 
man, what can it avail? He then adds, he has formed a molten image; 
that is, though the artifices has given form to the metal, or to the 
wood, or to the stone, yet he could not have changed its nature. He 
has indeed given it a certain external appearance; but were any one 
to ask what it is, the answer would surely be, "It is a graven 
image." Since then its nature is not changed by the work of man, it 
evidently appears, how stupid and mad must all those be who put 
their trust in graven images. 
    He then adds, and a teacher of falsehood. He added this clause, 
because men previously entertain false notions, and dare not to form 
a judgement on the matter itself. For, how comes it that a piece of 
wood or a stone is called a god? Had any one asked the sages at Rome 
or at Athens, or in other cities, who thought all other nations 
barbarous, What is that? on seeing a Jupiter made of silver; or of 
wood, or of stone, the answer would have been, "It is Jupiter, it is 
God." But how could this be? It is a stone, a piece of wood, or of 
silver. They would yet have asserted that it was God. Whence came 
this madness? Even from this, because men were bewitched, so that 
seeing they saw not; they wilfully closed their eyes, and resolved 
to be blind, being unwilling to understand. This is the reason why 
the Prophet, by way of anticipation, says, the artificer has formed 
- what has he formed? a graven image and a teacher of falsehood. The 
material remains the same, but a false notion prevails, for men 
think idols to be gods. How come they to think so? It is no doubt 
the teaching of falsehood, a mere illusion. He then confirms the 
same thing; the fashioner, or the artificer, he says, trusts in his 
own work, or in what he has formed. How is this? Must they not be 
void of sense and reason who trust in lifeless things? "The 
workman," as Isaiah says, "will take his instruments, will form an 
idol, and then he will bow the knee, and call it his god; yet it is 
the work of his own hands." What! art not thou thyself a god? thou 
knowest thine own frailty, and yet thou createst new gods! Even in 
this manner does the Prophet confirm what he had previously said, 
that men are extremely stupid, nay, that they are seized with 
monstrous sottishness, when they ascribe a kind of deity to wood, or 
to a stone, or to metal. How so? because they are, he says, false 
    And he adds, that he may make dumb idols. He again repeats what 
he had said, - that the nature of the material is not changed by 
men's workmanship, when they form to themselves gods either from 
wood or from stone. How so? because they cannot speak. To the same 
purpose is what immediately follows; the next verse must therefore 
be added. We shall afterwards say something more on the general 
Habakkuk 2:19 
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, 
Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it [is] laid over with gold and 
silver, and [there is] no breath at all in the midst of it. 
    He pursues, as I have said, the same subject, and sharply 
inveighs against the sottishness of men, that they call on wood and 
stone, as though there were some hidden power in them. They say to 
the wood, Awake; for they implored help from their idols. Shall it 
teach? Some render it thus as a question; but I take it in a simpler 
form, "It will teach;" that is, "It is a wonder that ye are so 
wilfully foolish; for were God to send to you no Prophet, were there 
no one to instruct you, yet the wood and the stone would be 
sufficient teachers to you: ask your idols, that is, ascertain 
rightly what is in them. Doubtless, the god that is made of wood or 
of stone, sufficiently declares by his silence that he is no god. 
For there is no motion in wood and stone. Where there is no vigour 
and no life, is it not right to feel assured, that there is no 
deity? There are, indeed, many creatures endued with feeling and 
motion; but the God who gives power, and motion, and feeling to the 
whole world, and to all its parts, does he not surpass in these 
respects all his creatures? Since, then, wood and stone are silent, 
they are teachers sufficient for you, provided ye be apt scholars." 
    We hence see how the Prophet in this way amplifies the 
insensibility of men; for they did not perceive what was quite 
manifest. The design of what follows is the same. Behold, it is 
covered over with gold and silver; that is, it is made splendid: for 
idolaters think that their gods are better when adorned with gold 
and silver; but yet there is no breath in the midst of them. "Look," 
he says, "within; look within, and ye shall see that they are dead." 
The rest we shall dilate on to-morrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as there is in us so little of right 
judgement, and as our minds are blind even at mid-day, - O grant, 
that thy Spirit may always shine in us, and that being attentive to 
the light of thy word, we may also keep to the right way through the 
whole course of our pilgrimage, and subject to thee both ourselves 
and every action of our life, so that we may not be led by any 
allurements into the same ruin with the ungodly, who would deceive 
and entrap us, and who lie in wait on every side; but that being 
ruled by the counsel of thy Spirit, we may beware of all their 
intrigues: and may we, especially as to our spiritual life, be so 
given up to thee alone, as ever to keep ourselves far away from the 
defilements of all people, and so remain in the pure worship of thy 
majesty, that the ungodly may never draw us away into the same 
delusions with themselves, by which Satan so mightily deceives them; 
but may we follow Him as our leader whom thou wouldst have to be our 
ruler, even Christ thy Son, until he at length gathers us all into 
that celestial kingdom which he has purchased for us by his own 
blood. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 9...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-08.txt