(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 12)
... Continued from Part 11

Lecture One Hundred and Seventeenth. 
    We explained yesterday why the Prophet says that God went forth 
for the salvation of the elect people with his Christ. His purpose 
was to confirm still more the faithful in the hope of their 
deliverance; for God is not only the same, and never changes his 
purpose, but the same Mediator also performs his office, through 
whom the people were formerly preserved. We must also notice this 
difference, to which I referred yesterday; for as God had then more 
clearly manifested Christ, with more cheerfulness it behaved the 
faithful to go on, as they had so remarkable a pledge of God's 
favour, inasmuch as God had promised that the kingdom of God would 
be for ever. 
    He adds, that wounded was the head from the house of the 
wicked; that is, that there was no power which had not been laid 
prostrate by God for the sake of his people; and we know that all 
the great kings were formerly destroyed, in order that favour might 
be shown to God's people. The other comparison seems different, and 
yet its object is the same - that God had made bare the foundation 
to the neck; that is, that he had destroyed from the roots his 
enemies; for by foundation he means, in a metaphorical sense, 
whatever stability there was in these enemies, and that this was 
torn up and overthrown to the very neck, that is, to the very 
summit; for the body of men, we know, is covered from the neck to 
the feet. And he says that their houses, that is their families, 
were made bare to the neck, for the Lord had destroyed them all from 
the bottom to the top. We now understand what the Prophet meant. 
    As to the word "selah", I have hitherto said nothing; but I 
shall now briefly refer to what the Hebrew interpreters think. Some 
explain it by "le'olam", " for ever;" and by "'od we'od" "yet and 
yet;" as though, when this word is inserted, the Holy Spirit 
pronounced what is to be for ever. Others render it by "amen", as 
though God testified that what is said is true and indubitable. But 
as it never occurs except in this song and in the Psalms, and does 
not always comport with what they say, that is, that it denotes 
certainty or perpetuity, I prefer embracing the opinion of those who 
think that it refers to singing, and not to things. And what they 
add is also probable, if we regard its etymology, for the word means 
to raise or to elevate; and it was therefore put down to remind the 
singers to raise their voice. But as it is a thing of no great 
importance, it is enough shortly to state what others think. Let us 
now go on - 
Habakkuk 3:14 
Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: 
they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing [was] as 
to devour the poor secretly. 
    At the beginning of this verse the Prophet pursues the same 
subject - that God had wounded all the enemies of his people; and he 
says that the head of villages or towns had been wounded, though 
some think that "perizim" mean rather the inhabitants of towns; for 
the Hebrews call fortified towns or villages "perizot", and the word 
is commonly found in the feminine gender; but as it is here a 
masculine noun, it is thought that it means the inhabitants. At the 
same time this does not much affect the subject; for the Prophet 
simply means, that not only things had been overthrown by God's 
hand, but also all the provinces under their authority; as though he 
had said that God's vengeance, when his purpose was to defend his 
people, advanced through all the villages and through every region, 
so that not a corner was safe. But we must also notice what follows 
- with his rods. The Prophet means that the wicked had been smitten 
by their own sword. Though the word rods is put here, it is yet to 
be taken for all kinds of instruments or weapons; it is the same as 
though it was said that they had been wounded by their own hands. 
    We now perceive the import of this clause - that God not only 
put forth his strength when he purposed to crush the enemies of his 
people, but that he had also smitten them with infatuation and 
madness, so that they destroyed themselves by their own hands. And 
this was done, as in the case of the Midianites, who, either by 
turning their swords against one another, fell by mutual wounds, or 
by slaying themselves, perished by their own hands. (Judg. 7: 2.) We 
indeed often read of the wicked that they ensnared themselves, fell 
into the pit which they had made, and, in short, perished through 
their own artifices; and the Prophet says here that the enemies of 
the Church had fallen, through God's singular kindness, though no 
one rose up against them; for they had transfixed or wounded 
themselves by their own staff. Some read - "Thou hast cursed his 
sceptres and the head of his villages;" but the interpretation which 
I have given is much more appropriate. 
    He adds, that they came like a whirlwind. It is indeed a verb 
in the future tense; but the sentence must be thus rendered - "When 
they rushed as a whirlwind to cast me down, when their exultation 
was to devour the poor in their hiding-places." It is indeed only a 
single verb, but it comes from "se'ar", which means a whirlwind, and 
we cannot render it otherwise than by a paraphrase. They rushed, he 
says, like a whirlwind. The Prophet here enlarges on the subject of 
God's power, for he had checked the enemies of his people when they 
rushed on with so much impetuosity. Had their advance been slow God 
might have frustrated their attempts without a miracle, but as their 
own madness rendered them precipitate, and made them to be like a 
whirlwind, God's power was more clearly known in restraining such 
violence. We now understand the import of what is here said; for the 
Prophet's special object is not to complain of the violent and 
impetuous rage of enemies, but to exalt the power of God in checking 
the violent assaults of those enemies whom he saw raging against his 
    He subjoins, their exultation was to devour the poor. He 
intimates that there was nothing in the world capable of resisting 
the wicked, had not God brought miraculous help from heaven; for 
when they came to devour the poor, they came not to wage war, but to 
devour the prey like wild beasts. Then he says, to devour the poor 
in secret. He means, that the people of God had no strength to 
resist, except help beyond all hope came from heaven. 
    The import of the whole is - that when the miserable Israelites 
were without any protection, and exposed to the rage and cruelty of 
their enemies, they had been miraculously helped; for the Lord 
destroyed their enemies by their own swords; and that when they 
came, as it were to enjoy a victory, to take the prey, they were 
laid prostrate by the hand of God: hence his power shone forth more 
brightly. It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:15 
Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, [through] the 
heap of great waters. 
    Some read, "Thou hast trodden thy horses in the sea;" but it is 
a solecism, that is quite evident. Others, "Thou hast trodden in the 
sea by thy horses." But what need is there of seeking such strained 
explanations, since the verb "darach" means to go or to march? The 
Prophet's meaning is by no means doubtful - that God would make a 
way for himself in the sea, and on his own horses. How? even when 
great waters were gathered into a mass. The Prophet again refers to 
the history of the passage through the Red Sea; for it was a work of 
God, as it has been said, worthy of being remembered above all other 
works: it is therefore no wonder that the Prophet dwells so much in 
setting forth this great miracle. Thou then didst make a way for thy 
horses - where? in the sea; which was contrary to nature. And then 
he adds, The heap of waters: for the waters had been gathered 
together, and a firm and thick mass appeared, which was not 
according to nature; for we know that water is a fluid, and that 
hardly a drop of water can stand without flowing. How then was it 
that he stopped the course of Jordan, and that the Red Sea was 
divided? These were evidences of God's incomprehensible power, and 
rightly ought these to have added courage to the faithful, knowing, 
as they ought to have done, that nothing could have opposed their 
salvation, which God was not able easily to remove, whenever it 
pleased him. It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:16 
When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: 
rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I 
might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, 
he will invade them with his troops. 
    Those interpreters are mistaken in my view, who connect the 
verb, "I have heard," with the last verse, as though the Prophet had 
said, that he had conceived dread from those evidences of God's 
power: for the Prophet had no occasion to fear in regarding God as 
armed with unexpected power for the salvation of his people; there 
was no reason for such a thing. Hence these things do not agree 
together. But he returns again to that dread which he had 
entertained on account of God's voice in those terrific threatening 
which we before referred to. We must always bear in mind the 
Prophet's design - that his object was to humble the faithful, that 
they might suppliantly acknowledge to God their sins and solicit his 
forgiveness. His purpose also was to animate them with strong hope, 
that they might nevertheless look for deliverance. He had already 
said at the beginning, "Lord, I have heard thy voice; I feared." He 
now repeats the same thing: for if he had spoken only of that 
terrific voice, the faithful might have been overwhelmed with 
despair; he therefore wished opportunely to prevent this evil, by 
interposing what might have comforted them. For this reason he 
recited these histories, by which God had proved that he was armed 
with invincible power to save his Church. Having done this, he 
applies his general doctrine to present circumstances, and says, "I 
have heard." What had he heard? even those judgements with which God 
had determined to visit the contumacy of his people. Since, then, 
God had threatened his people with a horrible destruction, the 
Prophet says now, that he had heard and trembled, so that he had 
been confounded. He speaks in the singular number; but this was 
done, as we have said, because he represented the whole people, as 
was the case before (which escaped my notice) when he said, his 
enemies came like whirlwind to cast him down; for certainly he did 
not then speak of himself but of the ancient people. As, then, the 
Prophet here undertakes the cause of the whole Church, he speaks as 
though he were the collective body of the people: and so he says 
that he had heard; but the faithful speak here as with one mouth, 
that they had heard, and that their inside trembled. 
    Some read, "I was dismayed, or I feared, and my inside trembled 
at his voice." He takes "kol", voice, not for report, but, as it has 
been said, for threatening. The faithful, then, declare here, that 
they dreaded the voice of God, before he had executed his 
judgements, or before he inflicted the punishment which he had 
threatened. He says, quiver did my lips. The verb "tsalal" means 
sometimes to tingle, and so some render it here, "Tingle did my 
lips;" but this is not suitable, and more tolerable is the rendering 
of others, "Palpitate did my lips." The Hebrews say that what is 
meant is that motion in the lips which fear or trembling produces. I 
therefore render the words, "quiver did my lips;" as when one says 
in our language, Mes levres ont barbate; that is, when the whole 
body shakes with trembling, not only a noise is made by the clashing 
of the teeth, but an agitation is also observed in the lips. 
    Enter, he says, did rottenness into my bones and within myself 
I made a noise, (it is the verb "ragaz" again,) or I trembled. No 
doubt the Prophet describes here the dread, which could not have 
been otherwise than produced by the dreadful vengeance of God. It 
hence follows that he does not treat here of those miracles which 
were, on the contrary, calculated to afford an occasion of rejoicing 
both to the Prophet and to the whole of the chosen people; but that 
the vengeance of God, such as had been predicted, is described here. 
    He now adds, That I may rest in the day of affliction. There 
seems to be here an inconsistency - that the Prophet was affected 
with grief even to rottenness, that he trembled throughout his 
members with dread, and now that all this availed to produce rest. 
But we must inquire how rest is to be obtained through these 
trepidations, and dreads, and tremblings. We indeed know that the 
more hardened the wicked become against God, the more grievous ruin 
they ever procure for themselves. But there is no way of obtaining 
rest, except for a time we tremble within ourselves, that is, except 
God's judgement awakens us, yea, and reduces us almost to nothing. 
Whosoever therefore securely slumbers, will be confounded in the day 
of affliction; but he who in time anticipates the wrath of God, and 
is touched with fear, as soon as he hears that God the judge is at 
hand, provides for himself the most secure rest in the day of 
affliction. We now then see, that the right way of seeking rest is 
set forth here by the Prophet, when he says, that he had been 
confounded, and that rottenness had entered into his bones that he 
could have no comfort, except he pined away as one half-dead: and 
the design of the Prophet, as I have already said, was to exhort the 
faithful to repentance. But we cannot truly and from the heart 
repent, until our sins become displeasing to us: and the hatred of 
sin proceeds from the fear of God, and that sorrow which Paul 
regards as the mother of repentance. (2 Cor. 7: 10.) 
    This exhortation is also very necessary for us in the present 
day. We see how inclined we are by nature to indifference; and when 
God brings before us our sins, and then sets before us his wrath, we 
are not moved; and when we entertain any fear, it soon vanishes. Let 
us, then, know that no rest can be to us in the day of distress, 
except we tremble within ourselves, except dread lays hold on all 
our faculties, and except all our soul becomes almost rotten. And 
hence it is said in Ps. 4: 4, "Tremble, and ye shall not sin." And 
Paul also shows that the true and profitable way of being angry is, 
when one is angry with his sins (Eph. 4: 26,) and when we tremble 
within ourselves. In the same manner does the Prophet describe the 
beginnings of repentance, when he says, that the faithful trembled 
in their bowels, and were so shaken within, that even their lips 
quivered, and, in short, (and this is the sum of the whole,) that 
all their senses felt consternation and fear. 
    He says, When he shall ascend: he speaks, no doubt, of the 
Chaldeans; When therefore the enemy shall ascend against the people, 
that he may cut them off: for "gadah" or "gud" means to cut off, and 
it means also to gather, and so some render it, "that he may gather 
them:" but the other meaning is better, "when the enemy shall 
ascend, that he may cut them off." If one would have the word God to 
be understood, I do not object: for the Prophet does not otherwise 
speak of the Chaldeans than as the ministers and executioners of 
God's wrath. 
    In short, he intimates, that they who had been moved and really 
terrified by God's vengeance, would be in a quiet state when God 
executed his judgements. How so? because they would calmly submit to 
the rod, and look for a happy deliverance from their evils; for 
their minds would be seasonably prepared for patience, and then the 
Lord would also console them, as it is said in Ps. 51: 17, that he 
despises not contrite hearts. When, therefore, the faithful are in a 
suitable time humbled, and when they thus anticipate the judgement 
of God, they then find a rest prepared for them in his bosom. It 
follows - 
Habakkuk 3:17,18 
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither [shall] fruit [be] 
in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields 
shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and 
[there shall be] no herd in the stalls: 
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my 
    The Prophet declares now at large what that rest would be of 
which he had spoken; it would be even this - that he would not cease 
to rejoice in God, even in the greatest afflictions. He indeed 
foresees how grievous the impending punishment would be, and he 
warns also and arouses the faithful, that they might perceive the 
approaching judgement of God. He says, Flourish shall not the fig, 
and no fruit shall be on the vines; fail shall the olive. First, the 
fig shall not flourish; then, the fields shall produce nothing; and 
lastly, the cattle and the sheep shall fail. Though the figs produce 
fruit without flowering, it is not yet an improper use of "parach", 
which means strictly to bud. He means that the desolation of the 
land was nigh at hand, and that the people would be reduced to 
extreme poverty. But it was an instance of rare virtue, to be able 
to rejoice in the Lord, when occasions of sorrow met him on every 
    The Prophet then teaches us what advantage it is to the 
faithful seasonably to submit to God, and to entertain serious fear 
when he threatens them, and when he summons them to judgement; and 
he shows that though they might perish a hundred times, they would 
yet not perish, for the Lord would ever supply them with occasions 
of joy, and would also cherish this joy within, so as to enable them 
to rise above all their adversities. Though, then, the land was 
threatened with famine, and though no food would be supplied to 
them, they would yet be able always to rejoice in the God of their 
salvation; for they would know him to be their Father, though for a 
time he severely chastised them. This is a delineation of that rest 
of which he made mention before. 
    The import of the whole is - "Though neither the figs, nor the 
vines, nor the olives, produce any fruit, and though the field be 
barren, though no food be given, yet I will rejoice in my God;" that 
is, our joy shall not depend on outward prosperity; for though the 
Lord may afflict us in an extreme degree, there will yet be always 
some consolation to sustain our minds, that they may not succumb 
under evils so grievous; for we are fully persuaded, that our 
salvation is in God's hand, and that he is its faithful guardian. We 
shall, therefore, rest quietly, though heaven and earth were rolled 
together, and all places were full of confusion; yea, though God 
fulminated from heaven, we shall yet be in a tranquil state of mind, 
looking for his gratuitous salvation. 
    We now perceive more clearly, that the sorrow produced by the 
sense of our guilt is recommended to us on account of its advantage; 
for nothing is worse than to provoke God's wrath to destroy us; and 
nothing is better than to anticipate it, so that the Lord himself 
may comfort us. We shall not always escape, for he may apparently 
treat us with severity; but though we may not be exempt from 
punishment, yet while he intends to humble us, he will give us 
reasons to rejoice: and then in his own time he will mitigate his 
severity, and by the effects will show himself propitious to us. 
Nevertheless, during the time when want or famine, or any other 
affliction, is to be borne, he will render us joyful with this one 
consolation, for, relying on his promises, we shall look for him as 
the God of our salvation. Hence, on one side Habakkuk sets the 
desolation of the land; and on the other, the inward joy which the 
faithful never fail to possess, for they are upheld by the perpetual 
favour of God. And thus he warns, as I have said, the children of 
God, that they might be prepared to bear want and famine, and calmly 
to submit to God's chastisements; for had he not exhorted them as he 
did, they might have failed a hundred times. 
    We may hence gather a most useful doctrine, - That whenever 
signs of God's wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains 
to us - to consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, 
which faith brings to us, can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows 
and anxieties. 
    But we must notice what follows, In the God of my salvation: 
for sorrow would soon absorb all our thoughts, except God were 
present as our preserver. But how does he appear as such to the 
faithful? even when they estimate not his love by external things, 
but strengthen themselves by embracing the promise of his mercy, and 
never doubt but that he will be propitious to them; for it is 
impossible but that he will remember mercy even while he is angry. 
It follows - 
Habakkuk 3:19 
The LORD God [is] my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' 
[feet], and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the 
chief singer on my stringed instruments. 
    He confirms the same truth, - that he sought no strength but in 
God alone. But there is an implied contrast between God and those 
supports on which men usually lean. There is indeed no one, who is 
not of a cheerful mind, when he possesses all necessary things, when 
no danger, no fear is impending: we are then courageous when all 
things smile on us. But the Prophet, by calling God his strength, 
sets him in opposition to all other supports; for he wishes to 
encourage the faithful to persevere in their hope, however 
grievously God might afflict them. His meaning then is, - that even 
when evils impetuously rage against us, when we vacillate and are 
ready to fall every moment, God ought then to be our strength; for 
the aid which he has promised for our support is all-sufficient. We 
hence see that the Prophet entertained firm hope, and by his example 
animated the faithful, provided they had God propitious, however 
might all other things fail them. 
    He will make, he says, my feet like those of hinds. I am 
inclined to refer this to their return to their own country, though 
some give this explanation, - "God will give the swiftest feet to 
his servants, so that they may pass over all obstacles to destroy 
their enemies;" but as they might think in their exile that their 
return was closed up against them, the Prophet introduces this most 
apt similitude, that God would give his people feet like those of 
hinds, so that they could climb the precipices of mountains, and 
dread no difficulties: He will then, he says, give me the feet of 
hinds, and make me to tread on my high places. Some think that this 
was said with regard to Judea, which is, as it is well known, 
mountainous; but I take the expression more simply in this way, - 
that God would make his faithful people to advance boldly and 
without fear along high places: for they who fear hide themselves 
and dare not to raise up the head, nor proceed openly along public 
roads; but the Prophet says, God will make me to tread on any high 
    He at last adds, To the leader on my beatings. The first word 
some are wont to render conqueror. This inscription, To the leader, 
"lamenatseach", frequently occurs in the Psalms. To the conqueror, 
is the version of some; but it means, I have no doubt, the leader of 
the singers. Interpreters think that God is signified here by this 
title, for he presides over all the songs of the godly: and it may 
not inaptly be applied to him as the leader of the singers, as 
though the Prophet had said, - "God will be a strength to me; though 
I am weak in myself, I shall yet be strong in him; and he will 
enable me to surmount all obstacles, and I shall proceed boldly, who 
am now like one half-dead; and he will thus become the occasion of 
my song, and be the leader of the singers engaged in celebrating his 
praises, when he shall deliver from death his people in so wonderful 
a manner." We hence see that the connection is not unsuitable, when 
he says, that there would be strength for him in God; and 
particularly as giving of thanks belonged to the leader or the chief 
singer, in order that God's aid might be celebrated, not only 
privately but at the accustomed sacrifices, as was usually the case 
under the law. Those who explain it as denoting the beginning of a 
song, are extremely frigid and jejune in what they advance; I shall 
therefore pass it by. 
    He adds, on my beatings. This word, "neginot", I have already 
explained in my work on the Psalms. Some think that it signifies a 
melody, others render it beatings (pulsationes) or notes (modos;) 
and others consider that musical instruments are meant. I affirm 
nothing in a doubtful matter: and it is enough to bear in mind what 
we have said, - that the Prophet promises here to God a continual 
thanksgiving, when the faithful were redeemed, for not only each one 
would acknowledge that they had been saved by God's hand, but all 
would assemble together in the Temple, and there testify their 
gratitude, and not only with their voices confess God as their 
Deliverer, but also with instruments of music, as we know it to have 
been the usual custom under the Law. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we cease not daily to provoke thy wrath 
against us, and as the hardness and obstinacy of our flesh is so 
great, that it is necessary for us to be in various ways afflicted, 
- O grant, that we may patiently bear thy chastisements, and under a 
deep feeling of sorrow flee to thy mercy; and may we in the meantime 
persevere in the hope of that mercy, which thou hast promised, and 
which has been once exhibited towards us in Christ, so that we may 
not depend on the earthly blessings of this perishable life, but 
relying on thy word may proceed in the course of our calling, until 
we shall at length be gathered into that blessed rest, which is laid 
up for us in heaven, through Christ one Lord. Amen. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

... Conclusion, Calvin's Commentary on Habakkuk...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-12.txt