(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 11)
... Continued from Part 10

Lecture One Hundred and Sixteenth. 
    We said yesterday that the Prophet spoke of the king of Chusan 
and of the Midianites, in order to strengthen the minds of the 
godly, and to set before their eyes the continued aid of God, so 
that they might venture to feel assured that he would not act 
otherwise towards the Church to the end of the world, then what he 
had done from the beginning. The meaning, then, is sufficiently 
evident. We must now consider the words. 
    Some understand by the word, "awen" nothing, or vanity; as 
though the Prophet had said, that the tells of Cushan had been 
reduced to nothing: but another sense is more probable; I have seen 
the tents of Cushan on account of his iniquity; that is, the reward 
which God had repaid, for the iniquity of the king of Cushan had 
been made manifest. The Prophet says that he had seen it, because it 
was evident and known to all. We now perceive what is meant that God 
had been a just judge against the army of Cushan; for as they had 
unjustly assailed the Israelites, so a just reward was rendered to 
them. The account of this we have in Judg. 3. Chusan, the king of 
Mesopotamia, had well-nigh destroyed the Israelites, when the Lord 
put him to flight with all his forces. Some render the words, "The 
tents of Ethiopia," as though it was written Chus; but this is 
strained, and contrary to the rules of grammar; and besides, the 
following clause confirms what I have said; for the Prophet mentions 
the slaughter with which God destroyed the Midianites, who had also 
nearly overwhelmed the miserable people. He says that their curtains 
trembled, or their dwellings: for God, without the hand or sword of 
men, drove them into such madness, that they slew one another, as 
the sacred history testifies. See Judg. 6. and 7. It now follows - 
Habakkuk 3:8 
Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? [was] thine anger 
against the rivers? [was] thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst 
ride upon thine horses [and] thy chariots of salvation? 
    The Prophet here applies the histories to which he has already 
referred, for the purpose of strengthening the hope of the faithful; 
so that they might know these to be so many proofs and pledges of 
God's favour towards them, and that they might thus cheerfully look 
for his aid, and not succumb to temptation in their adversities. 
When he asks, was God angry with the rivers and the sea, he no doubt 
intended in this way to awaken the thoughts of the faithful, that 
they might consider the design of God in the works which he had 
already mentioned; for it would have been unreasonable that God 
should show his wrath against rivers and the sea; why should he be 
angry with lifeless elements? The Prophet then shows that God had 
another end in view when he dried the sea, when he stopped the 
course of Jordan, and when he gave other evidences of his power. 
Doubtless God did not regard the sea and the rivers; for that would 
have been unreasonable. It then follows that these changes were 
testimonies of God's favour towards his Church: and hence the 
Prophet subjoins, that God rode on his horses, and that his chariots 
were for salvation to his people. We now perceive the Prophet's 
meaning, which interpreters have not understood, or at least have 
not explained. 
    We now, then, see why the Prophet puts these questions: and a 
question has much more force when it refers to what is in no way 
doubtful. What! can God be angry with rivers? Who can imagine God to 
be so unreasonable as to disturb the sea and to change the nature of 
things, when a certain order has been established by his own 
command? Why should he dry the sea, except he had something in view, 
even the deliverance of his Church? except he intended to save his 
people from extreme danger, by stretching forth his hand to the 
Israelites, when they thought themselves utterly lost? He therefore 
denies, that when God dried the Red Sea, and when he stopped the 
flowing of Jordan, he had put forth his power against the sea or 
against the river, as though he was angry with them. The design of 
God, says the Prophet, was quite another; for God rode on his 
horses, that is, he intended to show that all the elements were 
under his command, and that for the salvation of his people. That 
God, then, might be the redeemer of his Church, he constrained 
Jordan to turn back its course, he constrained the Red Sea to make a 
passage for his miserable captives, who would have otherwise been 
exposed to the slaughter of their enemies. There was indeed no hope 
of saving Israel, without a passage being suddenly opened to them 
through the Red Sea. 
    Hence all these miracles were designed to show that God had 
become the redeemer of his Church, and had put forth his power for 
the salvation of those whom he had taken under his protection: and 
it is easy from this fact to conclude, that the same help ought to 
be expected from God by posterity; for God was not induced by some 
sudden impulse to change the nature of things, but exhibited a proof 
of his favour: and his grace is perpetual, and flows in an even 
course, though not according to the apprehension of men; for it 
suffers some interruptions, because God exercises the faithful under 
the cross; yet his goodness never ceases. It hence follows that the 
faithful are to entertain hope; for God, when he pleases, and when 
he sees it expedient, will really show the same power which was 
formerly exhibited to the fathers. It now follows - 
Habakkuk 3:9 
Thy bow was made quite naked, [according] to the oaths of the 
tribes, [even thy] word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with 
    The Prophet explains the same thing more clearly in this verse 
- that the power of God was formerly manifested for no other reason 
but that the children of Abraham might be taught to expect from him 
a continued deliverance: for he says that the bow of God was made 
bare. By the "bow," he means also the sword and other weapons; as 
though he had said, that God was then armed, as we have found 
declared before. God therefore was then furnished with weapons, and 
marched to the battle, having undertaken the cause of his chosen 
people, that he might defend them against the wicked. Since it was 
so, we hence see that these miracles were not to avail only for one 
period, but were intended perpetually to encourage the faithful to 
look ever for the aid of God, even in the midst of death; for he can 
find escapes, though they may not appear to us. 
    We now see the import of the text; but he emphatically adds, 
The oaths of the tribes; for hereby he more fully confirms that God 
had not then assisted the children of Abraham, so as to discard them 
afterwards; but that he had really proved how true he was in his 
promises; for by the oaths of (or to) the tribes he means the 
covenant that God had made not only with Abraham, but also with his 
posterity for ever. He puts oaths in the plural number, because God 
had not only once promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed, 
but had often repeated the same promise, in order that faith might 
be rendered more certain, inasmuch as we have need of more than one 
thing to confirm us. For we see how our infirmity always vacillates, 
unless God supplies us with many props. As, then, God had often 
confirmed his servant Abraham, the Prophet speaks here of his oaths: 
but then as to the substance, the oath of God is the same; which 
was, that he had taken the race of Abraham under his protection, and 
promised that they should be to him a peculiar people, and, 
especially, that he had united the people under one head; for except 
Christ had been introduced, that covenant of God would not have been 
ratified nor valid. As, then, God had once included every thing when 
he said to Abraham, "I am God Almighty, and I shall be a God to you 
and to your children;" it is certain that nothing was added when God 
afterwards confirmed the faith of Abraham: but yet the Prophet does 
not without reason use the plural number; it was done, that the 
faithful might recomb with less fear on God's promise, seeing, that 
it had been so often and by so many words confirmed. 
    He calls them too the oaths to the tribes: for though God had 
spoken to Abraham and afterwards to Moses, yet the promise was 
deposited in the hands of Abraham, and of the patriarchs, and 
afterwards in those of Moses, that the people might understated that 
it belonged equally to them; for it would have been no great matter 
to promise what we read of to a few men only. But Abraham was as it 
were the depository; and it was a certain solemn stipulation made 
with his whole race. We hence see why the Prophet here mentions the 
tribes rather than Abraham, or the patriarchs or Moses. He had 
indeed a special regard to those of his own time, in order to 
confirm them, that they might not doubt but that God would extend to 
them also the same power. How so? Because God had formerly wrought 
in a wonderful manner for the deliverance of his people. Why? That 
he might prove himself to be true and faithful. In what respect? 
Because he had said, that he would be the protector of his people; 
and he did not adopt a few men only, but the whole race of Abraham. 
Since it was so, why should not his posterity hope for that which 
they knew was promised to their fathers? for the truth of God can 
never fail. Though many ages had passed away, the faith of his 
people ought to have remained certain, for God intended to show 
himself to be the same as he had been formerly known by their 
    He afterwards adds "omer", which means a word or speech; but it 
is to be taken here for a fixed and an irrevocable word. The word, 
"omar", he says; that is, as they say, the word and the deed: for 
when we say, that words are given, we often understand that those 
who liberally promise are false men, and that we are only trifled 
with and disappointed when we place confidence in them. But the 
term, word, is sometimes taken in a good sense. "This is the word," 
we often say, when we intend to remove every doubt. We now then 
perceive what the Prophet meant by adding "omer", the word. "O Lord, 
thou hast not given mere words to and people; but what has proceeded 
from thy mouth has been found to be true and valid. Such, therefore, 
is and faithfulness in thy promises, that we ought not to entertains 
the least doubt as to the event. As soon as thou givest to us any 
hope, we ought to feel assured of its accomplishment, as though it 
were not a word but the exhibition of the thing itself." In short, 
by this term the Prophet commends the faithfulness of God, lest we 
should harbour doubts as to his promises. 
    He then says, that by rivers had been cleft the earth. He 
refers, I doubt not, to the history we read in Num. 14; for the 
Lord, when the people were nearly dead through thirst, drew forth 
water from the rock, and caused a river to flow wherever the people 
journeyed. As then he had cleft the earth to make a perpetual course 
for the stream, and thus supplied the people in dry places with 
abundance of water, the Prophet says here, that the earth had been 
cleft by rivers or streams. It was indeed but one river; but he 
amplifies, and justly so, that remarkable work of God. He afterwards 
adds - 
Habakkuk 3:10 
The mountains saw thee, [and] they trembled: the overflowing of the 
water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, [and] lifted up his 
hands on high. 
    Habakkuk proceeds with the history of the people's redemption. 
We have said what his object was, even this that the people, though 
in an extreme state of calamity, might yet entertain hope of God's 
favour; for he became not a Redeemer to the race of Abraham for one 
time, but that he might continue the same favour to them to the end. 
    He says that mountains had seen and grieved. Some explain this 
allegorically of kings, and say, that they grieved when envy preyed 
on them: but this view is too strained. The Prophet, I have no 
doubt, means simply, that the mountains obeyed God, so as to open a 
way for his people. At the same time, the verb "chul" signifies not 
only to grieve, but also to bring forth, and then to fall and to 
abide in the same place. We might then with no less propriety read 
thus - see thee did the mountains, and were still, or fell down; 
that is, they were subservient to thy command, and did not intercept 
the way of thy people. I think the real meaning of the Prophet to 
be, that God had formerly imprinted on all the elements evident 
marks of his paternal favour, so that the posterity of Abraham might 
ever confide in him as their deliverer in all their distresses: and 
even the context requires this meaning; for he subjoins - 
    The stream or the inundation of waters, &c.: and this second 
part cannot be explained allegorically. We then see, that the import 
of the words is - That God removed all obstacles, so that neither 
mountains, nor waters, nor sea, nor rivers, intercepted the passage 
of the people. He says now, that the inundation of waters had passed 
away. This applies both to Jordan and to the Red Sea; for God 
separated the Red Sea, so that the waters stood apart, contrary to 
the laws of nature, and the same thing happened to Jordan; for the 
flowing of the water was stayed, and a way was opened, so that the 
people passed over dryshod into the land of Canaan. Thus took place 
what is said by the Prophet, the stream of waters passed away. We 
indeed know that such is the abundance of waters in the sea and in 
the rivers, that they cannot be dried up: when therefore waters 
disappear, it is what is beyond the course of nature. The Prophet, 
therefore, records this miracle, that the faithful might know, that 
though the whole world were resisting, their salvation would still 
be certain; for the Lord can surmount whatever impediments there may 
    He then ascribes life to waters; for he says, that the abyss 
gave its voice, and also, that the deep lifted up its hands; or that 
the abyss with uplifted hands was ready to obey God. It is a 
striking personification; for though the abyss is void of 
intelligence, and it cannot speak, yet the Prophet says, that the 
abyss with its voice and uplifted hands testified its obedience, 
when God would have his people to pass through to the promised land. 
When anxious to testify our obedience, we do this both with our 
voice and in our gesture. When any one is willing to do what is 
commanded, he says, "Here I am," or "I promise to do this." As, 
then, servants respond to others, so the Prophet says, that a voice 
was uttered by the abyss. The abyss indeed uttered no voice; but the 
event itself surpassed all voices. Now when a whole people meet 
together, they raise their hands; for their consent cannot be 
understood except by the outstretching of the hands, and hence came 
the word hand-extending, "cheirotonia". This similitude the Prophet 
now takes, and says, that the abyss raised up its hands; that is, 
shows its consent by this gesture. As when men declare by this sign 
that they will do what they are bidden; so also the abyss lifted up 
its hands. If we read, The deep raised up its hands, the sense will 
be the same. Let us proceed - 
Habakkuk 3:11 
The sun [and] moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of 
thine arrows they went, [and] at the shining of thy glittering 
    Here the Prophet refers to another history; for we know that 
when Joshua fought, and when the day was not long enough to slay the 
enemies, the day was prolonged according to his prayer, (Josh. 10: 
12.) He seems indeed to have authoritatively commanded the sun to 
stay its course: but there is no doubt, but that having been 
answered as to his prayer, when he expressed this, he commanded the 
sun, as he did, through the secret impulse of the Holy Spirit: and 
we know that the sun would not have stopped in its course, except 
the moon also was stayed. There must indeed have been the same 
action as to these two luminaries. 
    Hence Habakkuk says, that the sun and moon stood still in their 
habitation; that is, that the sun then rested as it were in its 
dwelling. When it was hastening in its course, it then stood still 
for the benefit of God's people. The sun then and the moon stood, - 
How? At the light of thy arrows shall they walk. Some refer this to 
the pillar of fire, as though the Prophet had said, that the 
Israelites walked by that light, by which God guided them: but I 
doubt not but that this is said of the sun. The whole sentence is 
thus connected - that the sun and moon walked, not as from the 
beginning, but at the light of God's arrows; that is, when instead 
of God's command, which the sun had received from the beginning as 
its direction, the sun had God's arrows, which guided it, retarded 
its course, or restrained the velocity which it had before. There is 
then an implied contrast between the progress of the sun which it 
had by nature to that day, and that new direction, when the sun was 
retained, that it might give place to the arrows of God, and to the 
sword and the spear; for by the arrows and the spear he means 
nothing else but the weapons of the elect people; for we know, that 
when that people fought under the protection of God, they were armed 
as it were from above. As then it is said of Gideon, "The sword of 
God and of Gideon;" so also in this place the Prophet calls whatever 
armour the people of Israel had, the arrows of God and his spear; 
for that people could not move - no, not a finger's breadth - 
without the command of God. The sun then was wont before to regard 
the ordinary command, of which we read in Genesis; but it was then 
directed for another purpose: for it had regard to the arrows of God 
flying on the earth as lightning; and it had regard to the arrows, 
as though it stood astonished and dared not to advance. Why? because 
it behoved it to submit to God while he was carrying on war. We now 
then perceive how much kindness is included in these words. 
    What, therefore, we have already referred to, ought to be borne 
in mind - that in this place there is no frigid narrative, but such 
things are brought before the faithful as avail to confirm their 
hope, that they may feel assured, that the power of God is 
sufficient for the purpose of delivering them; for it was for this 
end that he formerly wrought so many miracles. It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:12 
Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh 
the heathen in anger. 
    The Prophet relates here the entrance of the people into the 
land of Canaan, that the faithful might know that their fathers 
would not have obtained so many victories had not God put forth the 
power and strength of his hand. Hence he says, that God himself had 
trampled on the land in anger. For how could the Israelites have 
dared to attack so many nations, who had lately come forth from so 
miserable a bondage? They had indeed been in the desert for forty 
years; but they were always trembling and fearful, and we also know 
that they were weak and feeble. How then was it, that they overcame 
most powerful kings? that they made war with nations accustomed to 
war? Doubtless God himself trod down the land in his wrath, and also 
threshed the nations: as it is said in Ps. 44: 5, "It was not by 
their own sword that they got the land of Canaan; neither their own 
power, nor their own hand saved them; but the Lord showed favour to 
them, and became their Deliverer." Justly then does the Prophet 
ascribe this to God, that he himself walked over the land; for 
otherwise the Israelites would never have dared to move a foot. 
Doubtless, they could never have been settled in that land, had not 
God gone before them. Hence when God did tread on the land in his 
anger, then it became a quiet habitation to the children of Abraham; 
warlike nations were then easily and without much trouble conquered 
by the Israelites, though they were previously very weak. 
    We now see, that the Prophet sets forth here before the eyes of 
the people their entrance into the land, that they might know that 
God did not in vain put to flight so many nations at one time; but 
that the land of Canaan might be the perpetual inheritance of his 
chosen people. 
    The Prophet changes often the tenses of the verbs, 
inconsistently with the common usage of the Hebrew language; but it 
must be observed, that he so refers to those histories, as though 
God were continually carrying on his operations; and as though his 
presence was to be looked for in adversities, the same as what he 
had granted formerly to the fathers. Hence the change of tenses does 
not obscure the sense, but, on the contrary, shows to us the design 
of the Prophet, and helps us to understand the meaning. It follows 
at length - 
Habakkuk 3:13 
Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, [even] for 
salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the 
house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. 
    The Prophet applies again to the present state of the people 
what he had before recorded - that God went forth with his Christ 
for the salvation of his people. Some consider that there is 
understood a particle of comparison, and repeat the verb twice, "As 
thou didst then go forth for the deliverance of thy people, so now 
wilt thou go forth for the deliverance of thy people with thy 
Christ." But this repetition is strained. I therefore take the words 
of the Prophet simply as they are - that God went forth for the 
deliverance of his people. But when God's people are spoken of, 
their gratuitous adoption must ever be remembered. How was it that 
the children of Abraham became the peculiar people of God? Did this 
proceed from any worthiness? Did it come to them naturally? None of 
these things can be alleged. Though then they differed in nothing 
from other nations, yet God was pleased to choose them to be a 
people to himself. By the title, the people of God, is therefore 
intimated their adoption. Now this adoption was not temporary or 
momentary, but was to continue to the end. Hence it was easy for the 
faithful to draw this conclusion - that they were to hope from God 
the same help as what he had formerly granted to the fathers. 
    Thou wentest forth, he says, for the salvation, for the 
salvation of thy people. He repeats the word salvation, and not 
without reason; for he wished to call attention to this point, as 
when he had said before - that God had not in vain manifested, by so 
many miracles, his power, as though he were angry with the sea and 
with rivers, but had respect to the preservation of his people. 
Since then the salvation of the Church has ever been the design of 
God in working miracles, why should the faithful be now cast down, 
when for a time they were oppressed by adversities? for God ever 
remains the same: and why should they despond, especially since that 
ancient deliverance, and also those many deliverances, of which he 
had hitherto spoken, are so many evidences of his everlasting 
covenant. These indeed ought to be connected with the word of God; 
that is, with that promise, according to which he had received the 
children of Abraham into favour for the purpose of protecting them 
to the end. "For salvation, for salvation," says the Prophet, and 
that of his elect people. 
    He adds, with thy Christ. This clause still more confirms what 
Habakkuk had in view - that God had been from the beginning the 
deliverer of his people in the person of the Mediator. When God, 
therefore, delivered his people from the hand of Pharaoh, when he 
made a way for them to pass through the Red Sea, when he redeemed 
them by doing wonders, when he subdued before them the most powerful 
nations, when he changed the laws of nature in their behalf - all 
these things he did through the Mediator. For God could never have 
been propitious either to Abraham himself or to his posterity, had 
it not been for the intervention of a Mediator. Since then it has 
ever been the office of the Mediator to preserve in safety the 
Church of God, the Prophet takes it now for granted, that Christ was 
now manifested in much clearer light than formerly; for David was 
his lively image, as well as his successors. God then gave a living 
representation of his Christ when he erected a kingdom in the person 
of David; and he promised that this kingdom should endure as long as 
the sun and moon should shine in the heavens. Since, then, there 
were in the time of Habakkuk clearer prophecies than in past times 
respecting the eternity of this kingdom, ought not the people to 
have taken courage, and to have known of a certainty that God would 
be their Deliverer, when Christ should come? We now then apprehend 
the meaning of the Prophet. But I cannot now go farther; I shall 
defer the subject until tomorrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast so often and in such various 
ways testified formerly how much care and solicitude thou hast for 
the salvation of those who rely and call on thee, - O grant, that we 
at this day may experience the same: and though thy face is justly 
hid from us, may we yet never hesitate to flee to thee, since thou 
hast made a covenant through thy Son, which is founded in thine 
infinite mercy. Grant then, that we, being humbled in true 
penitence, may so surrender ourselves to thy Son, that we may be led 
to thee, and find thee to be no less a Father to us than to the 
faithful of old, as thou everywhere testifies to us in thy word, 
until at length being freed from all troubles and dangers, we come 
to that blessed rest which thy Son has purchased for us by his own 
blood. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 12...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-11.txt