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Habakkuk 2:15, 16

15. Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on his nakedness!

15. Vae qui potat socium suum (vel, amicum;) conjungis (conjungens) calorem tuum (vel, utrem tuum; alii vertunt, adhibes venenum tuum, vel, iram tuam; alii intendens iram;) atque etiam inebrias, ut aspicias super nuditates eorum (id est, verenda.)

16. 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.

16. Saturatus es ignominia ex gloria (vel, pro gloria;) bibe etiam tu et disco-operire (vel, sopiares;) fundetur super te calix dexterae Jehovae, et vomitus ignominiae super gloriam tuam.

 

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, מספח חמתך, mesephech chemetak, "who joinest and bottle.” חמה, cheme, 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 חמה, cheme, wrath, with a preposition understood: and in order that nothing may be understood, some render the participle, מספח, “displaying,” that is, “his fury.” But as חמה, cheme, 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 אף, 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 open; 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. 4141     The rendering of this verse has been various, though most agree as to its import. Grotius, Marckius, and Henderson, take nearly the same view of its meaning as Calvin, regarding it as metaphorical. But Marckius thinks that the drunkenness which the king of Babylon produced, means the evils which he inflicted on other nations. To make a nation drunk was to subdue and oppress it. See Isaiah 51:17,22; Jeremiah 25:15,16, 27,28; 51:7,39,57. This view is confirmed by the following verse, where the king of Babylon is threatened with a similar judgment; he was also to drink of the cup of Jehovah’s right hand. As he made other nations drunk, so the Lord threatens him with a like visitation.
   The verse will admit of a much simpler rendering than what has been commonly offered, such as the following:—

   Woe to him who makes his neighbor to drink,
Who adds his bottle, and also strong drink,
In order that he may look on their nakedness.

   To render [חמה], wrath, or heat, or gall, or poison, as some have done, is to introduce an idea foreign to the context, and the word is often found to signify the bottle of skin in which wine was kept. Newcome renders it “flagon.” By mentioning bottle, abundance of wine was probably intended, and to this abundance was added the strong drink, [שכר], intoxicating liquor. It is commonly rendered as though it were a verb in Hiphil; but it is not so. It means here no doubt, as in other places, strong drink. This line is only an application, as we find often in the Prophets, of the preceding line.

   Though there is no MS. which has “his” instead of “thy” connected with “bottle,” yet the preceding and the following lines seem to require it; and this is the reading of Symmachus and of the Vulgate. The change of persons, it is true, is very common in the Prophets, but not in such a way as we find here, the third person being adopted both in the preceding and in the following line.

   The idea of drinking as a judgment may have arisen from the cup of malediction given to criminals before their execution. See also Psalms 75:8. Babylon is in Jeremiah 51:7, represented as “a golden cup” in God’s hand to make the nations drunken. It was “golden” to signify an outward appearance that was plausible, and alluring. So the mystic Babylon is said to have a golden cup, which was full of all abominations, Revelation 17:4.—Ed.

As I have already said the Prophet charges the Babylonian king with having implicated neighboring 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 favor 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 neighboring 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 neighboring 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 חמה, cheme, 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 ardor 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 מ, 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—שתה גם אחה, shite gam ate, “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 favor 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. 4242     The view presented here of the first clause of the verse is striking, and such as the words may admit. But most commentators attach to them another meaning. Newcome’s version is—
   Thou art filled with shame instead of glory.

   Henderson’s rendering is—

   Thou art filled with shame, not with glory.

   The verb being in the past tense seems to favor Calvin’s view—“Thou hast been satiated with shame from glory,” that is, thou hast been filled to satiety with the shame occasioned to others, arising from the pursuit of thine own glory. And then, as Calvin justly observes, his punishment is denounced.—“Drink thou also.”—Ed.

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 ערל, orel, 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 הערל, eorel, is put for הרעל, erol; and רעל, rol, 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 4343     The verb [תסוב], loosely expressed here, is very correctly rendered by Henderson “shall come round;” and this is the idea which Calvin suggests in the following explanation.—Ed. 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 pretense 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 קיקלון, kikolun, is a compound. 4444     It is commonly derived from [קי], a contraction of [קיא], a vomit or spewing, and [קלוז], shame. Compounds are no common things in Hebrew; and these are found separate in nine MSS. The Septuagint have ἀτιμια, reproach only; and the Vulgate, “vomitus ignominiae—the spewing of shame.” Newcome renders it “foul shame,” and Henderson “great ignominy,” regarding it as a reduplicate noun for [קלקלוז]. But as drunkenness is the metaphor used, “shameful spewing,” or the spewing of shame or of reproach is most suitable to the passage.—Ed. We have already seen that קלוכ, kolun, 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 -


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