(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 9)
... Continued from Part 8

Lecture One Hundred and Fourteenth. 
    We said yesterday, that the Prophet speaks now of idols, that 
he might deprive the king of Babylon of his vain confidence: for 
though heathens claim everything to themselves and to their own 
powers, yet their superstition in some measure dementates them. 
Hence the Prophet shows, that that tyrant in vain trusted in his 
idols, since they were things of nought. But the reasons by which he 
refutes idolatry ought to be noticed: he says, that the artifices, 
who formed gods, were not able to change the nature of the material, 
for the wood remained wood, and stone continued to be stone, and 
that the workmen and artifices in forming it did nothing more than 
make a molten image. The material then remained still the same. As 
to the image itself, the Prophet says, that it was mere falsehood 
and deception; yea, that gods made of wood or of silver, or of any 
other material, were instructors and teachers of falsehood, for they 
allured simple souls: and Satan spread his snares before men, when 
he set before their eyes these visible figures, and persuaded them 
that they contained something divine. Then this reasoning of the 
Prophet ought to be carefully observed; for he reminds us, that 
fictitious gods are made of lifeless and perishable materials, and 
that images are only the juggleries of Satan. 
    That saying of Gregory is common among the Papists, that images 
are the books of the ignorant; for such was his answer to Serenus, 
bishop of Marseilles, who turned out images from all the churches 
(Lib. 9, Epist. 9.) He said that he approved of his object, in 
wishing to correct the superstition which prevailed among the 
people, but that he had done what was not right in wholly taking 
away images, the books of the ignorant. But let us consider whether 
more faith is due to Gregory, a man imbued with many errors, (as 
that age was very corrupt), or to the Prophet Habakkuk, and also to 
Jeremiah, who announces nearly the same sentiment. Though, then, 
there is some speciousness in idols, yet the Prophet here reminds us 
that they are nothing but the impostures of Satan; for they teach 
falsehood. The reason also that is given is deserving of notice - 
that the workmen put their hope in what they themselves have formed. 
And it is indeed a thing most preposterous, that a mortal man should 
form his own god, and then imagine that something divine is enclosed 
in the very form, for deity is not in the material. The material is 
disregarded when unformed; but not so when it attains a beautiful 
shape. While the tree grows, while it produces flowers and fruit, it 
is deemed, as it really is, a dead thing; but when a piece of it is 
formed in the figure of a man, it is believed to be a god! But it is 
extremely absurd to suppose that the hand of the artifices gives 
deity to a dead material; for the wood is dead, and nothing is 
perceived but the shape given to it by man. Since, then, the 
artifices trusts in what he has formed, it is what seems beyond 
anything strange. It is hence quite evident, that men are wholly 
demented by the devil, when they worship their own workmanship. 
    But now, in order to press the matter more fully on idolaters, 
the Prophet upbraids them for calling on the wood and on the stone 
to awake. It is certain, that when idolaters bow the knee before 
what they have themselves formed, they still imagine that there are 
celestial gods; but when before a figure of wood or stone they call 
upon God, it is the same thing as though they expected help from the 
wood and stone; for the question is not here what idolaters imagine, 
but the thing itself is to be regarded; and this is what the Prophet 
most fully and plainly condemns. Since, then, the superstitious are 
wont to address their prayers to wood and stone, he says, that they 
make to themselves gods, to whom they sacrifice. And the Prophet 
rightly refers in express terms to this kind of service; for the 
chief sacrifice which God bids to be offered to him, and demands 
from us, is to call on him; for we thus testify that life and all 
things belonging to salvation are found alone in him. Since, then, 
the majesty of God appears especially from having this testimony 
borne to him, that he is the fountain of life and of all blessings, 
every one who prostrates himself before a stone or wood, and 
implores the aid of a visible god, transfers, no doubt, the glory of 
the eternal God to a dead piece of wood or to a stone. If, then, we 
wish to be free from every superstition, let us remember this truth, 
that then only we have the only true God, when we direct our prayers 
and supplications to him alone, or, in a word, when we call on him 
alone. When we have recourse to dead idols, God is deprived of his 
own right. We may call him God a hundred times, but we give him an 
empty title, and one of no value, except we pray to him alone. 
    The Prophet, in the last place, derides the madness of men, by 
saying that the very idols teach: for, as it was said yesterday, the 
clause is not to be read as a question, as some do; but in order 
more sharply to reprove the stupidity of men, the Prophet says, 
"Doubtless the very figures themselves, except ye are wholly 
senseless, will teach you." He had before said, it is true, that 
they were the teachers of falsehood and vanity; but he speaks now of 
another kind of teaching, that if men wisely attended to the thing 
itself, they might soon learn from a mere view of their gods, that 
they were most palpably the deceits of Satan; for if any one looked 
on the idols with a clear eye, he would see that they were a dead 
material, and would see that great wrong is done to God by 
transforming him into a likeness of what is dead. 
    We now understand the Prophet's meaning, when he says, That 
idols themselves are sufficient, and more than sufficient teachers, 
when men are teachable, and lend an attentive ear. He means not, as 
it was said yesterday, that idols teach fallaciously to the 
destruction of men, while something divine is ascribed to them; but 
he says that they teach, if any one of a sane mind, and free from 
error, comes to view the idol, and forms a judgement of the thing 
itself. But superstition occupies the minds of men; and hence it is 
that all become the scholars of Satan, and no one applies his mind 
to understand the doctrine he mentions here. In short, idols teach 
naturally, and they teach through the artifice and delusion of 
Satan. They teach naturally; for by their silence they show that 
they are not gods, inasmuch as there is no strength in them. They 
teach, also, by the artifice of the devil; for they are made to 
claim a kind of divinity, and thus dazzle the minds of men, who are 
already corrupted by their own delusions. To the first teaching, of 
which the Prophet now speaks, none apply their minds; for almost all 
renounce nature wholly: this only lays hold on them - that idols are 
gods; for they make an image of the heavenly and eternal God, from 
whom we are at a great distance, and who does not otherwise descend 
to us, except through visible representations! 
    The same truth the Prophet confirms when he says, that though 
these gods are covered over with gold and silver, there is no breath 
in them, or in the midst of them. In short, he means that they are 
mere masks; for no divinity can be without life. As then idols are 
dead things, it follows that they are the most palpable impostures 
of Satan, by which he fascinates the minds of men, when they thus 
devote themselves to dead things. 
    Moreover, whatever is here said against idols, most certainly 
applies to the superstitions of popery. They deny that they give 
divine honours to their idols; but let us consider what the Prophet 
says. They indeed sacrifice to gold and silver, and then bend their 
knees before their images, and do not think that God is near them, 
except in these figures. Let them show, then, that the Prophet 
reasons here foolishly, or let them be held guilty according to the 
declaration, as it were, of the Holy Spirit, when they thus present 
their prayers before idols. It now follows - 
Habakkuk 2:20 
But the LORD [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence 
before him. 
    After having taught us that the Babylonians were deceived in 
expecting any help from their idols, and were deluded by Satan, 
Habakkuk now recalls the attention of the faithful to the only true 
God; for it would not have been enough to take away from the 
Babylonians the false confidence which they had in their idols, 
except the Israelites, on the other hand, trusting in the grace of 
the true God, were fully persuaded that God was on their side, as he 
had taken them under his protection. 
    And we ought carefully to observe this order; for we see that 
many boldly deride all the superstitions which prevail in the world, 
and at the same time daringly and with cyclopic fury despise the 
true God. How many are at this day either Epicureans or Lucianians, 
who prate jestingly and scoffingly against the superstitions of the 
papacy, but in the meantime they are not influenced by any fear of 
God? If, however, we are to choose one of two evils, superstition is 
more tolerable than that gross impiety which obliterates every 
thought of a God. It is indeed true, that the more the superstitious 
toil in their delusions, the more they provoke God's wrath against 
them; for they transfer his glory to dead things; but yet they 
retain this principle - that honour and worship are due to God: but 
the profane, in whom there is no religion whatever, not only change 
God from what he is, but also strive as far as they can to reduce 
him to nothing. Hence I have said, that the order which the Prophet 
observes here ought to be maintained. For, after having overturned 
the false illusions of the devil, by which he deludes the 
superstitious, by setting before them a mere shadow in the place of 
the true God, he now sets up the true worship of the only true God. 
Then the Prophet has hitherto been endeavouring to subvert 
superstitions, but he now builds up: for except God, when idols are 
pulled down, ascends his own tribunal, and shines there as supreme 
according to his right, it would be better, at least it would be 
more tolerable, as I have said, that superstitions should be left 
    He now says that God is in his own temple or palace: this word 
is often taken for heaven, but is applied to the sanctuary. Many 
consider that the reference is made to heaven; as though the Prophet 
had said, that the true God, who is the artificer and creator of 
heaven and earth, is not to be seen in a visible form, nor covered 
over with gold and silver, nor represented by wood or stone; but 
that he rules in heaven, and fills heaven with his infinite glory 
and this view is by no means unsuitable. But as he here specially 
addresses the Jews, it seems to me more probable that he speaks of 
the temple, where God then designed to be worshipped, and sacrifices 
to be offered to him for it would not have been sufficient to set 
God, the creator of heaven and earth, in opposition to the 
superstitions of all the nations; but it was also necessary to 
introduce the contrast between the God of Israel and all those gods 
who then had obtained a name and reputation in the world, as they 
had been formed by the will of men. The God of Israel was indeed the 
creator of heaven and earth; but he had made himself known by his 
law, he had revealed himself to men, so that his majesty was not 
hidden; for when we speak of God, we are lost except he comes to us, 
and in a manner exhibits himself to us; for the capacity of our 
understanding is not so great that it can penetrate above all 
heavens. Hence the majesty of God is in itself incomprehensible to 
us; but he makes himself known by his works and by his word. Now as 
the Israelites worshipped, and surely knew that they worshipped the 
only true God, the Prophet here rightly confirms them in the hope 
they derived from the teaching of the law - that God was their 
Father, inasmuch as he had adopted them. If any prefer to take the 
word for heaven, I do not object; and that meaning, as I have said, 
is not unsuitable. But as the Prophet seems to me to have a special 
vies to his own people, to whom he was appointed a teacher; it is 
more probable that the word, temple or palace, is here to be 
understood of the sanctuary. 
    If any raises the objection that there is then no difference 
between the God of Israel and the gods of the Gentiles, for he also 
dwells in an earthly habitation, the answer is obviously this - that 
though God is said to dwell between the cherubim, he has not been 
represented by an image, as though he had anything like to wood or 
stone, or possessed any likeness to human bodies. All these 
delusions were banished from the Temple; for he commanded his 
worshipers to look up to heaven. There was an intervening veil, that 
the people might understand that they could not otherwise come to 
God than through that celestial model, the anti types of which they 
saw in the altar of incense, in the altar on which they sacrificed, 
in the table of the shewbread, in short, in all other services of 
the Temple. And there is another difference to be noticed; for 
though there was there the golden altar, though there was there the 
ark of the covenant, and the altar on which the victims were 
immolated, yet inscribed on all these typical representations was 
the word of God, by which alone true religion was to be 
distinguished from all false inventions. For whatever specious 
appearance of reason may therefore be in fictitious modes of 
worship, men have no authority to render them lawful; but so much 
reverence is due to the only true word of God, that it ought to 
overrule all other reasons. And besides, this word, as I have hinted 
already, did not retain the Jews in these delusions, but elevated 
their minds to heaven. We now then see that there was a wide 
difference between the Temple which was at Jerusalem, and the 
temples which the superstitious had then built for themselves 
throughout the world; for God ruled over the Jews, so that they 
could not have been deluded. And at this day, where the word of God 
shines among us, we can follow it with safety. And, further, God did 
spiritually draw to himself his own servants, though he employed, on 
account of their ignorance, certain outward elements. Hence the 
Prophet justly says, that God was in his palace or his Temple; for 
the Israelites knew of a certainty that they did not worship a 
fictitious God, since in his law he had revealed himself to them, 
and had chosen the sanctuary, where he intended to be worshipped in 
a typical, and yet in a spiritual manner. 
    He then adds, Let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk, 
no doubt, commends the power of God, that the Israelites might 
proceed with alacrity in their religious course, knowing it to be a 
sufficient security to be under the protection of the only true God, 
and that they might not seek after the superstitions of the nations, 
nor be carried here and there, as it often happens, by vain desires. 
Keep silence, then, he says, let all the earth. He shows that though 
the Israelites might be far inferior to the Babylonians and other 
nations, and be far unequal to them in strength, military art, 
forces, and, in short, in all things of this kind, yet they would be 
always safe under the guardianship of God; for the Lord was able to 
control whatever power there might be in the world. 
    We now see what the Prophet had in view: for he does not here 
simply exhort all people to worship God, but shows, that thought men 
may grow mad against him, he yet can easily by his hand subjugate 
them; for after all the tumults made by kings and their people, the 
Lord can, by one breath of his mouth, dissipate all their attempts, 
however furious they may be. This, then, is the silence of which the 
Prophet now speaks. But there is another kind of silence, and that 
is, when we willingly submit to God; for silence in this respect is 
nothing else but submission: and we submit to God, when we bring not 
our own inventions and imaginations, but suffer ourselves to be 
taught by his word. We also submit to him, when we murmur not 
against his power or his judgements, when we humble ourselves under 
his powerful hand, and do not fiercely resist him, as those do who 
indulge their own lusts. This is indeed, as I have said, a voluntary 
submission: but the Prophet here shows that there is power in God to 
lay prostrate the whole world, and to tread it under his feet, 
whenever it may please him; so that the faithful have nothing to 
fear, for they know that their salvation is secured; for though the 
whole world were leagued against them, it yet cannot resist God. Now 
follows a prayer: - 
Chapter 3. 
Habakkuk 3:1 
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. 
    There is no doubt but that the Prophet dictated this form of 
prayer for his people, before they were led into exile, that they 
might always exercise themselves in the study of religion. We indeed 
know that God cannot be rightly and from the heart worshipped but in 
faith. Hence, in order to confine the dispersed Israelites within 
due limits, so that they might not fall away from true religion, the 
Prophet here sets before them the materials of faith, and stimulates 
them to prayer: and we know, that our faith cannot be supported in a 
better way than by the exercise of prayer. 
    Let us then bear in mind, that the way of fostering true 
religion, prescribed here to the miserable Israelites while 
dispersed in their exile, was to look up to God daily, that they 
might strengthen their faith; for they could not have otherwise 
continued in their obedience to God. They would, indeed, have wholly 
fallen away into the superstitions of the Gentiles, had not the 
memory of the covenant, which the Lord had made with them, remained 
firm in their hearts: and we shall presently see that the Prophet 
lays much stress upon this circumstance. 
    He calls it his own prayer, not because he used it himself 
privately, or composed it for himself, but that the prayer might 
have some authority among the people; for they knew that a form of 
prayer dictated for them by the mouth of a Prophet, was the same as 
though the Spirit itself was to show them how they were to pray to 
God. The name, then, of Habakkuk is added to it, not because he used 
it himself, but that the people might be more encouraged to pray, 
when they knew that the Holy Spirit, through the Prophet, had become 
their guide and teacher. 
    There is some difficulty connected with the word "shigyonot". 
The verb "shagag" or "shagah" means, to act inconsiderately; and 
from "shagah" is derived to "shigyon". Many render it, ignorance; 
some, delight. Some think it to be the beginning of a song; others 
suppose it to be a common melody; and others, a musical instrument. 
Thus interpreters differ. In the seventh Psalm David, no doubt, 
calls either a song or some musical instrument by the word 
"shigyon". Yet some think that David bears testimony there to his 
own innocency; and that, as he was not conscious of having done 
wrong, his own innocency is alone signified by the title: but this 
is a strained view. The word is taken in this place, almost by 
common consent, for ignorances: and we know that the Hebrews 
denominate by ignorances all errors or falls which are not grievous, 
and such things as happen through inadvertence; and by this word 
they do not extenuate their faults, but acknowledge themselves to be 
inconsiderate when they offend. Then "shigyon" is no excusable 
ignorance, which men lay hold on as a pretext; but an error of folly 
and presumptions, when men are not sufficiently attentive to the 
word of God. But perhaps the word "shigyonot", being here in the 
plural number, ought to be taken for musical instruments. Yet as I 
would not willingly depart from a received opinion, and as there is 
no necessity in this case to constrain us to depart from it, let us 
follows what had been already said, - that the Prophet dictates here 
for his people a form of prayer for ignorances, that is, that they 
could not otherwise hope for God's forgiveness than by seeking his 
favour. And how can we be reconciled to God, except by his not 
imputing to us our sins? 
    But the Prophet, by asking for the pardons of ignorances, does 
not omit more grievous sins; but intimates that though their 
conscience does not reprove men, they are yet not on that account 
innocent and without guilt; for they often inconsiderately fall, and 
their faults are not to be excused for inadvertence. It is, then, 
the same thing as though the Prophet reminded his own people, that 
there was no remedy for them in adversity but by fleeing to God, and 
fleeing as suppliants, in order to solicit his forgiveness; and that 
they were not only to acknowledge their more grievous sins, but also 
to confess that they were in many respects guilty; for they might 
have fallen through error a thousand times, as we are inconsiderate 
almost through the whole course of our life. We now, then, perceive 
what this word means, and why the Prophet spoke rather of ignorances 
than of other sins. But I shall not proceed farther now, as there is 
some other business. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast deigned to make thyself known 
to us by thy word, and as thou elevates us to thyself in a way 
suitable to the ignorance of our minds, - O grant, that we may not 
continue fixed in our stupidity, but that we may put off all 
superstitions, and also renounce all the thoughts of our flesh, and 
seek thee in the right way; and may we suffer ourselves to be so 
ruled by thy word, that we may purely and from the heart call upon 
thee, and so rely on thine infinite power, that we may not fear to 
despise the whole world, and every adversity on the earth, until, 
having finished our warfare, we shall at length be gathered into 
that blessed rest, which thine only-begotten Son has procured for us 
by his own blood - Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 10...

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