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Habakkuk 1:4

4. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgement doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgement proceedeth.

4. Propterea dissolvitur (vel, debilitatur) lex, et non egredietur perpetuo judicium (vel, non egreditur:) quia impius circumdat justum, propterea impius circumdat justum, propterea egredietur judicium perversum.

 

The Prophet confirms here what I have already said, and brings an excuse for his zeal; he proves that he was not without reason led to so great a warmth; for he saw that the law of God was trodden as it were under foot; he saw men so hardened in every kind of sin, that all religion and the fear of God had nearly been extinguished. Hence I have already said, that the Prophet was not here impelled by a carnal passion, as it often happens to us, when we defend ourselves from wrongs done to us; for when any one of us is injured, he immediately becomes incensed, while, at the same time, we suffer God’s law to be a sport, His whole truth to be despised, and everything that is just to be violated. We are only tender on what concerns us individually, and in the meantime we easily forgive when God is wronged, and His truth despised. But the Prophet shows here that he was not made indignant through a private feeling, but because he could not bear the profanation of God’s worship and the violation of His holy law.

He therefore says, that the law was dissolved or weakened, as though he said that God’s law had no longer any authority or regard. Let us hence learn to rouse up ourselves, for we are very frigid, when the ungodly openly despise and even mock God. As, then, we are too unconcerned in this respect, let us learn, by the Prophet’s example, to stimulate ourselves. For even Paul also shows, in an indirect way, that there is just reason for indignation—‘Be ye angry,’ he says, ‘and sin not,’ (Ephesians 4:26); that is, every one ought to regard his own sins, so as to become an enemy to himself; and he ought also to feel indignant whenever he sees God offended.

This rule the Prophet now follows, Weakened, he says, is the law 99     Calvin omits to notice “therefore,” [על-כז], at the beginning of the verse. Henderson says, that the connection is with the second verse: but this can hardly be the case; and certainly what this verse contains is no reason for what is stated in the previous verse. [לכז], a similar proposition with this, when followed by [כי], as the case is here, refers sometimes to what follows and not to what precedes. See Psalm 16:10,11; 78:21,22. The meaning of the verse will be elicited, as I can conceive, by the following version:—
   On this account the law fails,
And judgment goeth not forth to victory,

Because wickedness surrounds the righteous;
Yea, on this account perverted judgment goeth forth.

   The expression, [לא לנצח], is rendered “never” in our version, and by Newcome; but it never means this: “not for ever, or not always,” it is rendered in other places. See Psalm 9:19; 74:19. But [נצח] means as a noun, superiority, excellency, strength, victory; and this, according to Parkhurst, is what it means here. It seems better to render [רשע], wickedness, than wicked. It means injustice, the perversion of right, and by this the just man was surrounded or completely beset, so that he had no chance of having justice done to him.—Ed.
We know that when a sinful custom prevails, there is but little authority in what is taught: nor are human laws only despised when men’s audacity breaks through all restraints, but even the very law of God is esteemed as nothing; for they think that everything erroneously done, by the consent of all, is lawful. We now then see that the Prophet felt great anguish of mind, like holy Lot (Genesis 19:1-38.), when he saw every regard for God almost extinct in the land, and especially among the chosen people, whom God had above all others consecrated to himself.

He then adds, judgement goes not forth perpetually. Absurdly do many regard this as having been said in the person of foolish men, who think that there is no such thing as divine providence, when things in the world are in a disordered state: but the Prophet simply says, that all justice was suppressed. We have nearly the very same complaint in Isaiah 59:4. He then says, that judgement did not go forth perpetually, because the ungodly thought that no account was to be given by them. When, therefore, any one dared to say a word against them, they immediately boiled with rage, and like wild beasts fiercely attacked him. All then were silent, and nearly made dumb, when the ungodly thus prevailed and gathered boldness from the daily practice of licentiousness. Hence, ‘Go forth perpetually does not judgement;’ that is, “O Lord, things are now past hope, and there appears to be no end to our evils, except thou comest soon and applies a remedy beyond what our flesh can conceive.” For the wicked, he says, surround the righteous; that is, when there was any one who continued to retain some regard for religion and justice, immediately the wicked rose up against him on every side and surrounded him before and behind; so it happened, that no one dared to oppose the torrent, though frauds, rapines, outrages, cruelty, and even murders everywhere prevailed; if any righteous men still remained, they dared not come forth into the public, for the wicked beset them on all sides.

He afterwards adds, Therefore perverted judgement goes forth. The Prophet now rises higher, that even the rulers themselves increased the rage for evils, and as it were supplied fuel to their wickedness, as they confounded all distinction between right and wrong: for the Prophet speaks not here of private wrongs which any one might have done, but he speaks of the very rulers, as though he said, “There might have been one remedy, the judges might have checked so great an audacity; but they themselves stretch out their hands to the wicked and help them.” Hence the tribunals, which ought to have been sacred, were become as it were dens of thieves. The word משפט, meshiphith is taken properly in a good sense: Is not judgement then a desirable thing? Yes, but the Prophet says, that it was perverted. It was then by way of concession that judgement is mentioned; for he afterwards adds a word to it, by which he shows that the administration of the laws was evil and injurious: for when any one oppressed had recourse to the assistance of the laws, he was plundered. In short, the Prophet means, that all things in private and in public were corrupt among the people. It now follows—


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